A photographer whose book celebrates the culture of Indiana’s county 4-H fairs will spend part of his summer chronicling the uniqueness of Bartholomew County’s fair.

Indianapolis photographer Harold L. Miller plans to take his camera to the local fair as part of a summer project working with Ivy Tech Community College Columbus design students.

Local residents can get a sneak preview of the kinds of photos Miller will be taking at this year’s county fair — July 8 to 16 — in a new exhibit at the Columbus Learning Center, 4555 Central Ave. A reception to introduce Miller’s work to the Columbus community will be 5 to 7 p.m. today at the center.

The exhibit, with the same title as the book, “Fair Culture,” features large-scale photos of images that experienced Indiana fairgoers recognize immediately — 4-Hers with their animal exhibits, fair queens and children in the midway among the carnival food booths.

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A storyteller

Miller agreed to work with his friend, R. Lloyd Brooks, program chair for Ivy Tech Columbus’ visual communications program, to take the fair culture idea to the next level as an educational experience for Ivy Tech design students.Describing Miller as a storyteller with his photographs, Brooks said the design students will take Miller’s images from this year’s Bartholomew County Fair and design a book, “Fair Culture Bartholomew County.”

“His photographs are beautiful,” Brooks said of Miller’s work. “Almost Norman Rockwell-ian. These are classic snapshots of farm country, the 4-H program.”

Miller, who will attend today’s reception in Columbus, became interested in fairs after growing up in an Army family, living overseas and never experiencing what it was like to have a hometown.

Making his living as an advertising photographer, he also spends time taking photographs about America’s subcultures, and said he’s always had a fascination with the fair and its ties to a local culture.

“The fair thing, it’s the classic epitome of a community’s ties to agriculture,” he said.

When Miller first discovered what an Indiana county fair and state fair was like, he was drawn to show it in a book.

Rich environment

Miller shot photos for his “Fair Culture” book from 2005 to 2009, saying county fairs and the state fair were a rich environment for images and particularly to capture the beauty of the animals being exhibited there.“People are not connected to animals anymore. And if you don’t live on a farm, you might not realize how beautiful the animals are,” he said. “Animals are fascinating.”

All of the photos were shot in open, clean and clear light — no dramatic lighting, he said, so all the details are documented clearly for the viewer.

Quite a few images of chickens are among the “Fair Culture” photos, something Williams admits happened because he started focusing on how colorful and arresting the birds were.

“I’ve always thought chickens were a lot more interesting that people give them credit for,” he said.

But while chickens are a part of the photos, the humans with the chickens, or other animals at the fair, are the real focus for the exhibit and the book, he said.

Some who have looked at the photos see a certain symmetry and likeness between the humans and the animals, but Miller said that’s probably just in the eye of the beholder. It wasn’t something he was attempting to convey when taking the photos.

“There’s a relationship there,” he said. “They do go together… but I think it might be people filling in the blanks.”

Miller and Brooks have known each other for years, as Brooks worked in the advertising business before coming to Ivy Tech in Columbus, Miller said.

He described Brooks as being creative in how he engages students in the projects he sees as learning opportunities.

Grant sought

Brooks is seeking grant money to fund the book project, which will involve printing about 50 volumes of the images of the Bartholomew County Fair, estimated at 80 to 120 pages, depending on how many photos and how much text is included.In addition to the design students, Ivy Tech English students are being invited to work with the design students to write text that will accompany the photos. They may interview some families at the fair to provide more context for the photos, Brooks said.

Aaron Miller, an Ivy Tech history professor, is being asked to write a forward to the book.

School of Agriculture students at Ivy Tech Columbus will have a role, too, by bringing in some smaller farm animals and sharing some of their 4-H memorabilia at today’s exhibit reception.

Matt John, program chair for Ivy Tech’s agriculture program, said he anticipates that some of the students will talk about what they experienced while participating in 4-H during their middle and high school years.

There won’t be any large animals there, but John said those at the reception will be able to see some chickens, and maybe even a goat as part of the opening reception.

The exhibit at the learning center is designed to show Miller’s work in photography of Americana and subcultures, something he says the county fair embodies on both counts.

“It’s really what my recent work is all about — and I just really like the fair,” he said.

About the project

“Fair Culture Bartholomew County” will be the name of a book being created in a collaboration between Indianapolis photographer Harold L. Miller and the Ivy Tech School of Art & Design, the Ivy Tech School of Agriculture and the Bartholomew County 4-H program.

Miller will take photographs at this year’s Bartholomew County 4-H Fair, which Ivy Tech students will use to design the book.

Ivy Tech officials plan to seek a grant for the publication costs of the book.

About the exhibit

The exhibit “Fair Culture” will be featured at the Columbus Learning Center, 4555 Central Ave., through Aug. 5.

The exhibit is from a book by Indianapolis photographer Harold L. Miller, who took the photos between 2005 and 2009 and displayed them in the book.

If you go

What: Reception for the “Fair Culture” exhibit

When: 5-7 p.m. today

Where: Columbus Learning Center, 4555 Central Ave.

What: Indianapolis photographer Harold Miller will sign copies of his book, “Fair Culture,” and talk about the images on display. Miller will also talk about a summer project with Ivy Tech School of Art & Design students who are creating a book from Miller’s images of the Bartholomew County 4-H Fair, being taken this year.

How much: Free

Also: Representatives from the Bartholomew County 4-H program will bring some animals commonly exhibited at the county fair and talk about their experiences in 4-H during the reception. 4-H memorabilia and artifacts will be on display.

Author photo
Julie McClure is assistant managing editor of The Republic. She can be reached at jmcclure@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5631.