The Herald | Turning Seasons at Tunbridge Fair

Turning Seasons at Tunbridge Fair

September 12, 2013

Lindsey Parker waves to her brother Wesley and her grandad Gilbert Parker of Montpelier in this photograph taken with a Widelux panning camera at the 1992 Tunbridge World’s Fair. (Herald File / Bob Eddy)


The Tunbridge World’s Fair, founded in 1867, when photography was in its infancy, had the good grace to be situated in a valley unsullied by the insults of modernism. By comparison, the Essex County and Rutland Fairs have been eclipsed by huge swaths of paved street and highway, telephone poles bristling off into the horizon, and built up electrified landscapes. These venues seem swallowed up by all this development.
I feel a bit sad when I pass their fairgrounds; there is here a great disconnect with the land, with the arts of animal husbandry and food production which are the backbone of any true country fair. What we’re left with is a carnival, where the sense of agricultural festival has been swallowed up just like the streams of my childhood in Massachusetts, which decades ago disappeared under acres of parking lot and suburban street, entombed in concrete.

By contrast, the Tunbridge World’s Fair, still the biggest yearly event in the White River Valley, is cradled by rolling hills, washed by waters which have flowed here from centuries before farmers first led livestock down to the stream for refreshment—as they still do at fair-time.
Folks come to Tunbridge each year when the air is turning toward fall to have one last celebration of the growing season, before everything is buttoned up against winter winds and drifting snow.

The fair seems sweeter with each passing year. Almost 40 years ago, as a young father, I brought my sons here. Vividly I recall the first time they were deemed old enough to run off on their own, pockets and hopes fortified by a few dollars gleaned from redemption of bottles. Now, I see other parents have taken my place, holding the hands of eager children; letting go as these kids become teens eager to roam the cow sheds and the midway unencumbered by mom and dad.

The cycles of passing seasons are never more purely felt than here. I squint my eyes looking for folks I once saw every year. New people are awarding the prizes at Floral Hall; Annie Burke no longer stands at the edge of the oxen ring; that young lad I remember from the schoolhouse is grown and has children of his own.

One fair photograph which holds this fleeting precious quality of life for me was taken with my Widelux panning camera back in 1992. I was standing near the merry-go-round, seeking a way to photograph it which would capture something of the magic it held for young children as they whirled round and the calliope played.

I stepped up close to the turning panoply, so close that my lens looked down at the hooves of the passing horses and up into the inner canopy of the ride. With a typical camera this proximity will remove the wider field of view, but not with a Widelux, which pans the scene, swinging the lens 140 degrees as the film is exposed.

As I moved in for my photograph I became aware of an interaction: in the periphery of my vision, an older man held a young boy excitedly anticipating someone coming around on the ride.

Then on she rode, an enthusiastic young girl flashing a huge smile, seated on the outer edge of the field of horses. Seeing her brother and grandfather as she wheeled into view, Lindsey Parker reached out with her hand, as if to grasp the brass ring on this very pass. In turn, her grandfather raised his hand in salute and her brother lifted his hand as well, dipping one small finger in his sister’s direction.

This photograph is not of a merry-go-round as much as it is of a family at the fair. The joy holding these three together as the young girl wheels past is more evident than the painted pony she is mounted upon!

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