During the 1970s, a young man worked for a carnival concessionaire who, every summer, traveled to county fairs throughout California and the West with a portable photo studio. He produced beautiful portrait-sized photos of people and their loved ones in just a few minutes at a reasonable price. In the pre-digital era, it was a good deal.
However, what types of people were photographed at county fairs? People who do not have a lot of money. People were living on the margins—people whose lives were written on their faces. At the county fair, they could record who they were to specify and dictate for themselves.
Between 1976 and 1980, Mikkel Aaland created these portraits using a portable studio to travel from fair to fair. Three people were needed to run the darkroom and shooting stage in the studio: a shooter, a front person to handle customer service, and someone to develop and print the 4×5 inch negatives.
Mikkel Aaland said:
Because our prices were so reasonable, we often had lines of customers that lasted from ten in the morning to midnight. To give you an idea of our volume: on a busy day in Pleasanton, I shot over 450 portraits, averaging three people per print, meaning 1,350 primarily smiling faces.