May 13 – June 21, 2009
During two summers, Meg Birnbaum visited 14 regional fairs in New England, ranging from small 4H events to huge expositions, and “was smitten.’’
“I was surprised at how vividly I remembered the fairs of my youth,’’ says Birnbaum. “I found that then and now, fairs are a complicated balance of startling innocence and huckster sleaze.’’
Corn Dogs and Blue Ribbons, an exhibit of Birnbaum’s fair photographs, is at the Griffin Museum at Digital Silver Imaging in Belmont, MA, May 31 through June 21. An opening reception with the artist is Friday, May 22, 6-8 PM. The gallery is the newest of the museum’s satellite locations.
Birnbaum photographed the fairs using basic, plastic cameras and black and white film. “I purposely wanted to lose sharp detail and instead capture a fleeting moment, a broad stroke, the distillation of the experience in the hope of capturing iconic imagery,’’ she says.
Many of the fairs Birnbaum visited were more than 100 years old, yet she began to wonder about the future of farm animals and farm life. “The future of these summer fairs may rely on a shift away from agriculture to entertainment…mostly food, specifically fried food, ‘’ she says. “Fried Oreos, fried cheesecake. `We’ll fry anything’ one sign read.’’ But for now, she adds, “All of this, and more, exists in harmony against a backdrop of gleeful screams, bells and whistles, and the aroma of fried dough mixed with the pungent essence of livestock and exotic poultry.’’
“I was attracted to Meg Birnbaum’s photographs because they are rich with narrative and such textural pieces,” says Paula Tognarelli, executive director of the Griffin Museum of Photography. “I love how the image sits on the photo rag paper. Most of all, I just love where these images take me.”
Birnbaum, of Somerville, MA, has a Master of Arts degree from Montserrat College of Art in Beverly, MA, where she later served as chairman of the illustration department for a short time. She also has been a teaching assistant at Lesley University in Cambridge, MA.