For one week a year, Atlantic City is taken over by the crowning of Miss America. A competition well-known and reiterated around the world since its inception, the general opinion of the event in the 21st Century is that it’s a little outdated, and certainly backwards in its representation of an “upstanding woman”. One particular question that’s been raised around the annual competition is how the Miss America Foundation should progress during the #MeToo era. It’s a question Bloomberg Businessweek wanted to explore and so it sent its photo editor, (and It’s Nice That favourite) Caroline Tompkins, to interpret this change photographically.
As the editorial angle focuses on “how the foundation is evolving in the #MeToo era, like axing the swimsuit competition and replacing it with contestant’s social media platforms,” as well as “internal politics, funding calamities and past-winner scandals,” it was Caroline’s duty to get snug with the crowd, from preliminary judging and contest signings (“think Miss Congeniality” she says), through to the final.
“I headed down on Saturday for the annual ‘Show Us Your Shoes’ parade on the Atlantic City boardwalk,” Caroline tells It’s Nice That of the beginning of her trip. “Each contestant designs a shoe based on their personality or state and extends their leg out of a convertible that drives along a boardwalk. Imagine an echo of women yelling ‘You look amazing sweetie!’ for hours.” Amongst all this, Caroline also had to deal with an impending hurricane predicted to hit Jersey Shore that weekend, “insert internal hurricane in the foundation with actual hurricane metaphor here,” she says. “Anyways, what a humbling and perverted experience it was to be running around in the rain for the perfect foot photo.”
The next day was the one everyone, including Caroline, was waiting for. During the presentation, press photographers were only permitted to the top corner of the stadium so Caroline made an early run for it. Sneaking around “using my camera as a permission slip and filled a seat close to the stage before the event staff started placing seat fillers around me,” she explains.
Seemingly surrounded by every woman ever who has had “a girl in their life who participated in the pageant, and no filter for telling you about it,” Caroline’s photographs embody the inherent madness of the event which inhabits its contestants, along with the crowd who’ve bagged front-row seats. “They’re glad the swimsuit competition is over. They loved the swimsuit section. They think the women are too fat this year. They’re glad the foundation is diversifying. It’s all gossip,” the photographer explains, “and I’m nodding my head repeating totally and for sure.”
In turn, Caroline’s photographs portray an attitude towards the Miss America competition which doesn’t carry a particular opinion, but allow the viewer, to make up their own mind about the slightly archaic but ultimately fascinating event. One definite thing her photographs do portray, however, is that it’s all a bit mental, isn’t it?
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