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State Fair: Exhibition of Photographs by Arthur Grace on Display at the Center for American History

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Contact: Alison Beck, Associate Director
Center for American History
Phone: (512) 495-4515
Fax: (512) 495-4542

Date: June 9, 2006

State Fair President Carter Miss Texas Chihuahua
All photos © Arthur Grace  (click image to enlarge)

"I couldn't help thinking that if aliens ever landed on earth and you only had a few hours to help them understand America, all you would have to do is take them to any state fair. For me, they are a microcosm of America--in all its glory and weirdness--at any given point in time." --Arthur Grace

An exhibition of 36 black and white photographs by award-winning photojournalist Arthur Grace is on display at the Center for American History. The exhibition is a visual distillation of Grace's photographic odyssey through fairs in ten states-- Texas, California, Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, and Virginia.

Arthur Grace, who photographed stories worldwide for Time and Newsweek magazines, was introduced to state fairs while covering national elections in 1980, 1984, and 1988. Following presidential and vice presidential candidates campaigning at various Midwestern state fairs, he was captivated by the action, diversity, smells, and sounds of these annual gatherings. Recognizing the phenomenon as distinctly American, he was inspired to explore state fairs in depth with his camera. In 2003 he set out to find what attracted twenty million Americans in every geographic area of the country to converge at the fairgrounds each autumn.

Grace captured this ritual with thousands of photographs. Selections from these comprise the exhibit including prize-winning pigs, corn dog-eating contests, beauty queens, marching bands, gravity-defying midway rides, and miracle machines for back pain, butter sculptures, and demolition derbies. The images convey the strange mixture of the traditional, the kitsch, and the off-the-wall that is unique to these annual gatherings.

Arthur Grace recently named the Center for American History, The University of Texas at Austin, as the permanent repository for his photographic archive, now part of the Center's News Media History Archive. Documenting the development of the American news media industry, this extensive archive includes the collections of nationally recognized photojournalists whose images have captured important national and international newsmakers and events.

The University of Texas Press published State Fair in April 2006, a book of photographs including those in this exhibit. The book is part of the Focus on American History Series, edited by Don Carleton, Director of the Center for American History. The book is available for purchase through the University of Texas Press (1-800-252-3206) and at online and national bookstores.

The Center for American History is the University's agency to support and facilitate research, teaching and public education in U.S. history. The exhibit is on display through August 31 at the Center's Research and Collections Division, located in Sid Richardson Hall 2.106 on the campus of The University of Texas at Austin.

Related story available on The Digital Journalist.