Two years ago, photographer David Bowman showed up on the opening day of the Minnesota State Fair determined to capture the state’s great “get-together” in a series of compelling images. A transplant from Chicago, Bowman had fallen in love with the fair nearly a decade prior—its crowds, cows, smells, and sounds fascinated him. “Over the years, it became one of those things that anchored me to Minnesota,” says Bowman, a commercial portrait photographer whose work has appeared in such publications as Time and Vanity Fair. He even enters the fair’s fine-arts competition every year.
In 2008, Bowman set up his Sinar P2 4x5 camera, a gangly contraption with a tripod base and a digital back, on the midway night after night and waited for the perfect moment. The resulting exposures—some as long as 30 seconds—reveal scenes that can’t be glimpsed with the naked eye, landscapes free of the cacophony and chaos that reign at the fairgrounds. “I wanted the photos to be about the experience of the midway,” Bowman says. “If you took a picture regularly, it wouldn’t look like the fair actually feels.”