Images of the State Fair


Sometimes memories are as simple as black and white.

For Kurt Ullrich, a photographer and essayist, the Iowa State Fair was.

In his newly released book, The Iowa State Fair, Ullrich said he decided to showcase the fair through black and white photos of attendees and participants because he believes many photographs of the people at the fair — and Midwesterners — weren’t accurately represented and “look like they’ve just come out of the Dust Bowl.”

“They’re always sort of sad pictures,” Ullrich said. “Someone in bib overalls at a county fair, maybe they’re overweight, maybe they’re looking sad. I can’t really explain it. There’s just something about it. It’s just wrong. These are not the people I grew up with.”

The fair, which is titled “Nothing Compares,” will begin Thursday and run through Aug. 17.

The Jackson County resident did not begin going to the fair until around 10 years ago because his parents were originally from Chicago, and they were not interested in agriculture.

And he will return this year.

Accompanied by wife Bobbi Alpers, Ullrich will be at the Iowa State Fair signing books and soaking in the atmosphere of the annual event.

“I wanted to do a book in which people were totally happy,” Ullrich said. “Where people go to a fair because there’s joy there, there’s delight, there’s happiness. There are all of those things there if you let it happen to you.”

With a little more than 100 photos showcasing competitions, food, and livestock, one photo stuck out to Ullrich — Gov. Terry Branstad judging a steer contest.

“I can absolutely guarantee you [Branstad] was in heaven,” Ullrich said. “He grew up on a farm. He was very comfortable with this and very comfortable with the steer … if you look at the background, there are number of people looking off in a different direction that’s because the next steer was being brought in by [Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds], and the steer was basically dragging her into the arena. But he paid no attention. He was just very comfortable with the whole thing.”

The fair, which is Iowa’s largest event, annually attracts 1 million visitors from the region, as well as the country and internationally, according to the Iowa State Fair website.

Ullrich’s book has caught the attention of several people in Iowa, including a Des Moines Register journalist Mary Willie, who said in a statement Ullrich “immersed himself in the 2013 Iowa State Fair with awe and curiosity.”

“You just can’t beat all the fun you have at the Iowa State Fair,” Branstad said in a statement about Ullrich’s book. “It is Iowan and Iowans at our best.”

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