Flash back to the NC State Fair

A history of the NC State Fair told through the lens of local photographer Avery Danziger.

A couple on a roller coaster at the NC State Fair in 1974.

“Roller Coaster” was taken in 1974.

Photo by Avery Danziger

Every year, the NC State Fair is chock-full of picture-perfect moments. Perhaps it’s a couple devouring a sugar-dusted funnel cake or joyous faces lit up by the multicolored lights of carnival rides. The fascinating photo opportunities are endless.

That’s why Chapel Hill photographer Avery Danziger has taken thousands of photographs of the fair since 1972. Although Avery’s career has led him to places around the world like Mexico and Turkmenistan, he continues to revisit Raleigh’s annual tradition to capture nostalgic — and unexpected — moments.

A woman sits under a sign that reads "I'll guess your age or weight" at the NC State Fair in 1974.

There was “no free guessing” at the NC State Fair in 1974.

Photo by Avery Danziger

Avery first visited the fair with his parents when he was 6 years old. He recalls wandering off on his own to explore the midway, watching professional wrestling in J.S. Dorton Arena, and peeking into tents to catch glimpses of dancing women.

As an adult, Avery returned to the fair with his black-and-white film camera to search for interesting backgrounds and patiently wait for special moments to unfold in front of him. He was often drawn to scenes featuring oversized vegetables, prize-winning livestock, carnival games, and visitors simply hanging out.

“I love walking around and looking at what people are doing,” Avery said. “I have a tremendous amount of faith in the power of serendipity — unusual things will always present themselves if you’re open to seeing them.”

Four men sitting in front of a food stand at the NC State Fair in 1975.

Strangers hanging out in front of a hamburger joint at the NC State Fair in 1975.

Photo by Avery Danziger

Avery’s photographs cover a span of 50 years, documenting both the continuities and changes of the fair. So, what’s different now? “There’s been a huge uptick in bizarre forms of food and it’s much more crowded,” Avery said. “And the cultural diversity has exploded.”

Select prints of fair scenes from Avery’s black-and-white film and digital color photography collection can be viewed in-person during his “A Fair of the Heart: NC State Photographs, 1972-2022" exhibition. The show runs from Fri., Oct. 21-Sat., Nov. 12 at Durham’s Through This Lens Gallery.

Avery plans to return to the fair this year — so look out for a new photo in his exhibition.

A man sitting on a carnival ride.

“21" was taken in 1974.

Photo by Avery Danziger

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