CHATHAM—Thanksgiving traditions fill our hearts, minds and stomachs at this time of year.
But it’s another holiday, also steeped in tradition, that this story is about—Labor Day and the Columbia County Fair.
On the fair’s website www.columbiafair.com organizers are already counting down to the 178th Columbia County Fair, August 29 through September 3, 2018—just 281 days, 1 hour, 5 minutes and 7 seconds away at this writing.
Jamie Hankin of Kinderhook is looking forward to it. Not for the demolition derby or the racing pigs, but for the people.
For the past five years, Mr. Hankin, a photographer, has set up a booth at the fair. He puts a sign out front announcing “Free souvenir photographs,” and anyone who wants to, stops by voluntarily. They pose in whatever way they want; alone, with their best pals or their blue-ribbon goat, Mr. Hankin told The Columbia Paper this week. And in exchange for letting him take the photos, he hands them a free print of the picture on the spot.
“First, they want to know why it’s free and then, why am I doing it,” said Mr. Hankin.
Because for him, he tells them, they are the most interesting part of the fair.
During the time he has had the photo booth at the fair, Mr. Hankin says he has captured the images of about 25,000 people and now he wants to put some of them in a book to give back to the community. He will call it, “Faces at The Fair” and he’s seeking the public’s help in the form of monetary donations to make the book happen. Time is of the essence.
While the fair is “comfortingly static” in that one always knows where the 4-H kids will be showing their animals, where the huge pumpkins will be on display and where the fried dough will be, what’s changing is the people, says Mr. Hankin.
“The best part of the fair for me has always been the people. The fair is that constant, that date on the calendar around which the whole year revolves. It marks time and freezes time. The fair exists in probably every county and town in this country, as well as all over the world in one form or another, yet the people make each one unique,” Mr. Hankin writes on the Kickstarter campaign web page for Faces at The Fair.
The self-published hardcover book will be coffee-table sized, 12 by 12-inches, 100 pages and contain 125 to 150 of the most interesting photos Mr. Hankin has taken at the fair.
The photos chronicle “the changes to the people: children growing up, families developing, people growing older, at a certain point there’s a new mix, the community changes,” he said.
The book will also contain some stories, the one at the top of his list is about a multigenerational family who showed up at his booth on the last day of the 2014 fair. All five days had been very hot and Mr. Hankin and his wife, Laura, who works with him in the booth “had sort of had enough” and were about to pack up their gear.
The four generations included a man in a wheelchair, his wife, children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. “I had to do this picture,” he said, “it was a great way to end the fair, it was satisfying.”
The following year, when the Columbia County Agricultural Society put out promotional press releases about the upcoming fair, they used the photo taken by Mr. Hankin of the four generations of family as an example of the faces at the fair.
Later, someone from the fair office called Mr. Hankin to tell him they had received a call about the photo from the family matriarch. Mr. Hankin recalled getting an uneasy feeling in the pit of his stomach, fearing that there had been some complaint.
But to the contrary, the woman thanked the fair organizers for using the photo. She said her husband, the family patriarch, had died two weeks after the fair and the family had completely forgotten they had this beautiful reminder of a day when the whole family was together for one of the last days they had with “grampy.” The photo was a memento they would not have had otherwise.
The “Faces at The Fair” project had been on Mr. Hankin’s “bucket list” for 20 years, he said.
He spend five or six years talking about it, saying “I’ll do it next year,” when his wife reminded the 57-year-old photographer, he was running out of “next years.”
“Had it not been for her enthusiasm for the fair” she had attended since she was a child, “I would have let this slide.”
Noting his tendency to be “a lot less public than this requires” and that he “would not have had the courage to move forward if she had not insisted,” he said, “the pictures would not have happened” if not for his wife.
Mr. Hankin needs nearly $25,000 to get “Faces at The Fair” published. That amount will cover design, printing and shipping costs, which he says will easily make up half of the total. Seven hundred copies will be produced and the book should be ready by early April.
Mr. Hankin will not make any money on the book.
Funds collected in excess of production and shipping costs will be donated to the Columbia County Agricultural Society, the Columbia County Chapter of 4-H and to Heroic Food, a local organization that assists veterans through farming and agriculture.
The Kickstarter fundraising campaign at www.kickstarter.com/projects/275167363/faces-at-the-fair is live now and ends December 4. This is an all or nothing funding model, which means if the goal is not reached, no money is collected.
Pledges are welcome at any level and $50 or more will get the contributor a signed personal copy of the book, among other things.
If Mr. Hankin does not meet the funding goal, he says he hopes to rerun the funding campaign. In any case, he will be right back in his booth at the 2018 fair photographing more faces at the fair.
To contact Diane Valden email