Photo book examines life at the historic Neshoba County Fair

Very Close and Personal

Surely the Neshoba County Fair makes everyone’s list of unique things in Mississippi. Billed as Mississippi’s Biggest House Party, the campground fair is not a typical county or state fair. It began in 1889 and covers 60 acres, most of which is a race track. A horse racing track in Mississippi is in itself a novelty.

Memphis native Michael Whitaker has put together a photographic representation of the fair in a book with color and black-and-white photos. It’s available from Blurb.com on a print-on-demand basis. We don’t usually tout print-on-demand books, but this one will undoubtedly generate interest due to its subject matter and the generations of Mississippians who love the Neshoba County Fair.

Whitaker, who’s had a 25-year career in social psychology, returned to school to study photography. He was attracted to the fair because of its distinct family orientation and unique social structure. He says his book is intended as a tribute to the families who crowd together into limited spaces for eight days to carry on a tradition and to all others who make the fair an exciting experience.

“The reality of the phenomena really is mind boggling,” he said. “The majority of the participants reside on fair property for the duration of the event in cabins passed down from generation to generation. The group in each space is composed of genetic and legal relations, accompanied by a variety of friends and neighbors. Most remain for the entire fair.”

This closeness is why he chose the book’s title, ‘Very Close and Personal.’ “By 21st Century standards, people are just too close to other people, and people are too close to fair events,” he said. “Yet the interpersonal proximity appears to continue to work for the fair.”

Whitaker’s photo essay is not presented as a comprehensive documentary of the fair. As the sub title implies, the focus is on the individuals who participated in the 2010 fair. “An attempt was made to photograph as many different activities as possible, but all could not be photographed,” he said. “Likewise, the faces featured within the pages represent only a small fraction of the fair population.”

He says early comments about the book suggest it provides views of a slice of Americana unknown to many people outside Mississippi. The book may be previewed at www.blurb.com/bookstore/detail/2904215.

Whitaker resides in Canby, Ore., with his family of four generations under one roof.

>> Very Close and Personal: Faces of the 2010 Fair in Neshoba County
By Michael Whitaker
Available from Blurb.com
$32.95 soft cover, $44.95 hard cover

— Lynn Lofton, mbj@msbusiness.com

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