Photographer Robert Rutoed has spent the last 10 years on “an expedition through the grotesque realm of must-haves and mega-trends.” For the past decade the Austrian photographer has visited trade shows and exhibitions across the world and documented what he saw. He has now published the series Fair(y) Tales, which is a whistlestop and frequently bizarre romp that takes a peek into the commercialised worlds of undertaking, sex, cattle and more. It’s Nice That caught up with Robert to find out more.
What inspired you to start shooting trade fairs?
If, like me, you are committed to non-staged photography, one day you will end up at one or another trade fair in search of interesting subject matter. For me, these visits were always so rewarding in photographic terms that it was almost inevitable that I would develop a long-term project out of these sporadic events and implement it consistently. It’s been ten years since I started, and, on balance, it has been a very positive experience: the project continued to be exciting over the entire period and my efforts were rewarded with numerous interesting photographs.
How many have you visited over the past ten years?
A glance at my meticulously kept project list reveals that I have visited exactly 124 fairs since 2007.
How has the nature of trade fairs changed over the past ten years?
In my youth, there were only two universal fairs, one in the spring, one in the autumn. It was only during these events that television broadcast all day programmes, so that on the TV equipment displayed there, there was also something to see. A blessing for us children, and thus I was able to watch one of my favourite films, Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday by Jacques Tati twice a year.
Then in the 1990s, a veritable boom took place and suddenly there was hardly a topic for which a fair was not organised. In recent years, this seems to have slowed down quite a bit. People are increasingly using the Internet as a source of information to learn about new trends. Exhibitors complain about falling visitor numbers. I have already seen fairs cancelled altogether due to a lack of exhibitors. Some trade fair organisers are countering this decline by organising several fairs on different topics simultaneously to fill their halls.
Why publish the photos now? How many images were there in total?
The series was planned from the beginning without a time limit. I trusted that I would know when the time was right to complete the project. In order to gain further interesting facets on the topic, I have visited some fairs several times. Until the moment when there was nothing really new to catch my attention.
I finally selected 76 works from the original almost 400 photos that made it to my personal shortlist. In addition to supporting the project, the main selection criterion was that every single image had to be outstanding enough to be surprising and able to stand alone outside the series. A requirement which, incidentally, I have of all my photos. I often encounter series where, after looking at 5 or 6 photos, you can already guess the contents of subsequent ones. I find that terribly boring.
What story are you telling? How does the series work together as a whole?
From time immemorial, there has been a yearning for a heavenly life, for a place where everything is in a perfect state. In the Middle Ages, man was content with the idea of eternal life and a few amenities, but modern man is much more demanding in this area. He expects excellence in every sphere of life!
Exhibition halls are the perfect place to satisfy these expectations and to reveal hitherto unknown longings. Who needs a real open fireplace, when an even nicer, cheaper one flickers on an HD screen? Why to be satisfied with a poorly dressed pallbearer at the next funeral when the most elegant uniforms are available at the Undertaker’s fashion show?
What were your most memorable fairs and why?
The fair for undertakers and an erotic fair because of the way they dealt in a completely unabashed manner with two topics that are still taboo: death and sexuality. For commercial reasons, moral concerns or exaggerated discretion would be completely out of place there.
What are your future plans for this series?
A book is coming out in 2018. I am still talking about funding for an exhibition and looking for the space: an industrial hall big enough to hold 40 to 50 prints measuring 2 × 3 metres.