Kevin O’Meara’s project Second Best depicts the Minnesota State Fair for the 12 days it’s open. “I was just going to make something and break out of a rut. Even if nothing came of it, I just gave myself permission to make bad photos,” explains Kevin.
The Minneapolis-based photographer had been to the fair three or four times before shooting it. “It appealed to me because it’s a strange place, with strange people, and strange events always happening; it’s a nightmare of a place if you have any sort of anxiety or mild nervousness for that matter,” says Kevin.
Rather than go out with a list of things he wanted to capture, Kevin let the fair dictate what he photographed. “I found myself intrigued by the animals and the happenings around them. A lot of times when I go to shoot, it’s a visceral reaction. I’ll see something and move towards it and shoot it,” he says.
Kevin shot the series in black and white, having been shooting that way up until that point. “My grandfather was a press photographer and printed all his own work so that was important for me to do as well,” he explains. “Shooting in black and white makes it easier for me to think and respond to what’s going on. Our world is not monochromatic. It creates a separation from reality. When I shoot black and white, it’s great because there is no claim to have any honesty in the photograph, these are suggestions that lend themselves to reality.”
Throughout the series we see kids fighting, goat shows, classic fair games and portraits of people drinking and soaking in the atmosphere. With so many aspects of the fair depicted, Kevin creates a vivid picture of the fair and all its characters.
“The state of Minnesota thinks that Minnesota is the best. There is a strange sentimentality and possessiveness that comes with the collective consciousness of the state. It is a quiet superiority that exists in urban settings and rural communities,” says Kevin. “It’s in this light that I title the work Second Best, because the Minnesota State Fair is not the largest state fair, we’re the second largest. Despite being ranked, we’re not the best at everything. Sometimes you are where you are.”
The series has just been published as a book and by placing the images together, Kevin hopes to create a new dialogue between the photographs. “I felt sequencing was an important part of carrying an experience for the viewer. These are images that can be used for editorial, but when I put them in sequence and present them as a cohesive artefact, the intention is made,” he explains. “When you go through the book cover to cover, you’re seeing it in the way that I want you to experience it. We take a walk together. It’s not a random set of images.”
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