Mikkel Aaland

"It's All An Adventure"

Mikkel talking about County Fair Portraits on the David Letterman show.

Mikkel Aaland’s County Fair Portraits: Special Portfolio Edition (2015)

County Fair Portraits, is an honest and moving depiction of Americans in the 1970’s shot at county fairs across the country. America fell in love with County Fair when it was released over 30 years ago, and now you can fall in love all over again with the release of this unique collection in three distinct formats.

The limited edition portfolio, published by Malulu Editions, includes 25 original images, each 13 x 19 inches, encased in beautiful custom box created by Dreaming Mind. You can also enjoy the Blurb print on-demand catalog available in both hard and soft covers, or purchase the E-book on Amazon.

In 1976, while the United States was celebrating it’s bicentennial, photographer Mikkel Aaland was traveling to county fairs across the country capturing photographs of America in it’s truest form: through the people. These unique and inspiring portraits have garnered widespread media attention over the years and even landed Aaland an interview with David Lettermen. There are few publications that depict America in such a raw and haunting way. County Fair Portraits tells a story of America unlike any other.

Although the world has drastically changed since the collection was first published in 1981, the portraits and stories have remain unchanged, and will forever be a reminder of a unique era and moment in our nation’s past. For the first time ever, Mikkel Aaland is bringing back County Fair in three different forms so that everyone can enjoy a piece of America’s history.

In the foreword, the late novelist James D. Houston compares County Fair to other meaningful works of art: “It brings to mind Edward Curtis’s Portraits of North American Indian Life, and the Dust bowl photos by Walker Evans in Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, and the series by Ansel Adams called Born Free and Equal, recording the lives of Japanese Americans at Manzanar Relocation Center, east of the Sierras, in 1942, and Our Kind of People, Bill Owens’ study of hometown groups and rituals. County Fair has that same kind of narrative appeal. These eyes and outfits, the body talk, the tattoos and the jewelry - they tell us, with haunting precision, one of the true American stories”

“Such moving photographs, funny and sad. It’s real Americana. Aaland is a latter day Disfarmer.” - Mary Ellen Mark, photographer

“A chronicle of people being who they are. These faces [become] historical”- Jon Carroll, New West

“Aaland has turned folk art into fine art... shocking and fascinating!”- Bill Owens, author of Suburbia












Limited Edition Portfolio

25 archival 13 x 19 inch prints. Boxed.

Limited to an edition of 25.

Starting price $5,000

contact: mikkel directly


Catalog available in hardcover, softcover, and ebook editions.


Personal Note

County Fair Portraits was originally published in 1981 by Capra Press of Santa Barbara, Noel Young, editor. It contained 75 portraits and text and a foreword by the late American novelist James D. Houston. County Fair Portraits: Special Portfolio Edition is a collaboration between myself and photographer and friend Luis Delgado.  We edited the original 75 images from the book down to 25, scanned the 4 x 5 inch negatives, spotted and processed the files in Adobe Photoshop and Luis printed them on finely crafted archival ink-jet paper. San Francisco designer Bruce Yelaska designed the cover and interior material. The set, along with accompanying text and captions, is encased in a Dreaming Mind custom built box and numbered. This book is a catalogue of the limited edition.  For more information on acquiring a limited edition portfolio, please contact me.

Book Description

Still Life by  Jon Carroll

Consider these faces. They are in the most obvious way modern–the haircuts, the jewelry, and the makeup all serve to place them precisely in the present. But a glance into the eyes, an examination of the sets of the jaws, renders these faces historical, as though daguerreotypes from the American past had been cleverly retouched.

We see traces of the Dust Bowl, of the Indian wars, of the struggle up from slavery. We see the past around us. Perhaps that’s because these photographs were taken at the most anachronistic of contemporary celebrations, the county fair. In an era of programmed entertainment, fairs remain chaotic and boisterous, more like a shivaree than a theme park. They are too large and too diffuse-livestock, marmalade, Ferris wheels, takeout goldfish to yield comfortably to quick definitions.

Mikkel Aaland has spent every year since 1971 traveling the California county fair circuit, taking pictures of anyone who could afford his modest prices.

Working for Foote Photos, fair photo concessionaires, Aaland used an ancient Burke and James 4x5 camera with three equally elderly Honeywell strobes to capture his images, the Ilford film was cooked at 92 degrees for a full 40 seconds before it was fixed and enlarged. The whole process, from click to print, took about fifteen minutes.

Aaland resisted the traditional temptations–he did not produce an arty WPA documentary celebrating the dignity of the common people, nor did he clone Diane Arbus yet again to demonstrate the grotesque substance of the human form. His camera was neutral, dispassionate. Those who chose to enter Aaland’s sanctum had diverse reasons for doing so. Some wanted to memorialize their ceremonial costumes, some wanted a token of their presence at this auspicious event, most just felt like having their pictures taken, even as, a moment before, they had felt like throwing a softball at a pyramid of wooden milk bottles. The result is a chronicle of people being who they are, unencumbered by formality. Mikkel Aaland’s captions provide the context; the photos speak for themselves.

Very special thanks to the columnist Jon Carroll for permission to reproduce his text which first appeared in the May 1981 issue of California magazine.





©2024 Mikkel Aaland

All Rights Reserved