As a non-farmer, Tim McGowan has learned three important rules over the approximate 15 years he’s been the official photographer/videographer at the Lebanon Area Fair.

“Never step in front of the (show) judge, watch where you step, and don’t get caught between an animal and the wall,” said McGowan during an interview conducted during a photo shoot of the dairy beef judging competition in the Brightbill Arena on Wednesday morning.

Tim McGowan shoots a picture of the winner of the showmanship judging during the dairy beef show while show judge Jon Harnish, right, tells the audience why he selected this contestant as the winner of that competition. McGowan has been capturing moments like this for nearly 15 years at the Lebanon Area Fair. (James Mentzer)

If a picture’s worth a thousand words, then McGowan and his crew of eight volunteers shoot enough fair photos in a single day that would be the equivalent of reading an epic novel like War and Peace

“We average about 1,000 (photos) a day,” says McGowan. “I don’t take that many. We have people walk around and Darrel (Moyer) is there at the other end (of the arena). We kind of combine because it’s too much to cover for one person. I found that out during my first year here. There’s just too much going on.”

Of the nearly 1,000 pictures that are shot daily, how many actually make the final cut and are posted to McGowan’s website?

“Nine hundred and ninety-nine,” says McGowan, tongue firmly planted in cheek. “I might take one bad picture out.”

Although there are less than 999 photos per day for sale on his website, McGowan said he charges well below face value for the ones that are worthy of posting. He said he charges only to recoup website maintenance costs, preferring to keep photos affordable for farmers and other customers who may want to purchase them.

Lebanon Area Fair photographer/videographer Tim McGowan said it’s moments like these that he appreciates the most because the picture captures the hard work local youth put into getting ready to show their animals during fair week. He added that he’s amazed that some of the younger children are able to lead an animal around the ring that is much larger than them. McGowan has been shooting the fair and videotaping portions for the past 15 years.

Besides providing them on his site, he also delivers all the photos on two hard drives for fair officials to have in perpetuity. Since it’s clear that McGowan, who spends many long hours at the week-long fair, isn’t offering his services as a way to pad his bottom line, what drives him to give so freely of his time and talent?

“First of all, the love of photography and the love of seeing people every year doing what their profession is or what they hope to make their profession,” said McGowan. “But seeing the kids grow up, who start out probably at the age of 8 or 9 years old and on up through, seeing them progress, working through their problems with the animals, the training, and seeing them become champions here.”

He’s also motivated to preserve touching moments like the one he experienced on Tuesday. 

“This one girl, who’s bred and showed her stock from a young age, won and when she got that award, she started crying because it’s hard work,”said McGowan. “These kids are out here doing hard work to build for their future.”  

While McGowan mostly shoots events at the fair, some of his volunteer crew members are dispatched for “walkabouts,” meaning they travel around the fair looking to capture special moments while not being too invasive in people’s privacy.

That’s not to say, however, that McGowan most treasured photos are limited to activities in the show arena.

“The kind of stuff I like is when I can walk around outside, early in the day, and just capture friends standing around and talking,” said McGowan, who scrolled on his camera to a picture of a young animal exhibitor chatting and laughing with her friends prior to the start of the judging competition. “When you know you’ve captured it – that twentieth of a second or whatever you are shooting at – and in that minute you get that picture and it is just right. The lighting’s perfect and nobody has walked in front of you.”

LebTown asked McGowan if he considers himself to also be the fair’s unofficial photographic and video historian. 

“I agree 100 percent,” said McGowan, who also shoots a limited number of videos as time permits. “That’s kind of the goal. When I give the fair all of the pictures on those drives, one that people can borrow and one that stays in the office, the idea is to keep adding each year onto those drives.”

His motivation is propelled by the knowledge that time has a way of losing those precious moments like the one he captured on film on Tuesday. 

“It’s very apparent that memories get lost, pictures get thrown away and somebody will pass away and their items get discarded because no one thinks of keeping them,” said McGowan, who added that the producers of the historical DVD documentary currently being made wished that they had access to past fair photos. “We’re doing the history project for that video and we wish we had that because it was all paper and now that stuff’s been thrown out, so this way they’ll have them (photos) for the future.”

Read More: Lebanon Area Fair to get Hollywood treatment in historical documentary

The prevalence of digital photography is the biggest change to occur since McGowan began capturing Lebanon Area Fair photos around 2008. He said he isn’t sure when he started working at the week-long event, but he believes it was about 15 years ago. 

“When we started it was digital, but I’ve done events where we shot on film and had to take it to be processed and then bring it back,” said McGowan. “It’s so much nicer now. You take more pictures than you have to. But I look for that moment that makes the shot.”

Concerning future fairs, McGowan said he plans to keep shooting away as long as his health lasts.

“I hope to be able to and when I am now longer able to, maybe some of the younger kids or the ones who have been helping me will, I don’t know,” said McGowan. “I’d like to get more involved with 4-H or maybe a FFA club that would do photography so I could then delegate that for the fair.”

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James Mentzer is a freelance writer whose published works include the books Pennsylvania Manufacturing: Alive and Well; Bucks County: A Snapshot in Time; United States Merchant Marine Academy: In Service to the Nation 1943-2018; A Century of Excellence: Spring Brook Country Club 1921-2021; Lancaster...


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