Stephen Tomasko – First Place and Our Congratulations

First Place and Our Congratulations is a reflection on youth and on competition, set within the microcosm of sixteen midwest (USA) county fairs.



These temporary, annually occurring encampments provide the perfect stages, rich with characters and detail beyond my imaginings, on which to consider the processes of both growing up and measuring up, to parents and judges, to peers, and to the past. They are hyper-competitive with games, contests and seemingly endless ribbon earning opportunities.

The fairs typically last for about a week each year, and have a long running history within their communities. Many have been held every year for more than a century and a half, meaning the kid’s parents, and grandparents, and great great grandparents have had the same experiences themselves long ago.

Many of the ‘junior fair’ animal competitions are alternately intensely physical and mind-numbingly dull, with stakes that are really very high. For example, the participant with the champion piece of livestock in each category will receive a prize ribbon most likely supplemented by a significant premium being paid by a sponsor to send the entry to the lucky buyers dinner table. Life and death, winning and losing, it’s all right here to see for the cost of a ticket.

For those attending, life on the midway isn’t much easier. Its cast of characters, as carefully primped as the livestock in the arenas, also compete in their own way for notice and respect. Hoping to fit in, while somehow standing out. Staking their turf, another year older. Dreaming of hearing their name, somewhere, some day, preceded by the call, ‘First place and our congratulations’.





















More images and other interesting projects on Stephen Tomasko’s website. Stephen Tomasko photographs at the intersection of the natural and the manmade worlds. He has created bodies of work with subjects as diverse as the life and landscape of the American city streets and midwest county fairs, the stark reality of the big steel and auto industries, and pristine blooming gardens. Tying the work together is a vision of carefully seen straight photography, presented full-frame, with minimal processing. Stephen lives with his wife and daughter outside of Akron, Ohio.