WELLINGTON — Dan Messaros stood at the top of the Lorain County Fair grandstand on a warm Wednesday morning, looking over the remnants of the fair.
A light breeze blew through a pile of peanut shells and a discarded french fry cup. All that remained in the field was a wet mud pit, left behind by the demolition derby and tractor pulls from the week before.
The area will be cleaned up before the Steam Engine Show in September, but Messaros said there is something relaxing about that grandstand, away from the hustle and bustle of the Lorain County Fair.
During the early summer months, Messaros would take his lunch up there and just sit and look out at the field and the farmhands training their horses.
“It was so relaxing,” he said. “I enjoyed the fair so much, it was like taking in the fair in a different perspective, kind of like it was asleep.”
Messaros, a photographer, has become a staple of the Lorain County Fair — not unlike the Midway Oh Boy booth and the demolition derby. Every time something happens, the 72-year-old is there with a camera pointed at the action.
“Everywhere you go, there’s Dan … He always seems to be in the right place at the right time,” said Craig Norton, Lorain County Fair board member.
Messaros was designated “official Lorain County Fair photographer,” but no one knows for sure how he was enlisted.
Messaros said he began taking pictures of the horse races at the fair in 1973, filling in for one of the photographers. During that time, he had his own booth to advertise his services.
“People got to know me, and then I started photographing 4-H,” he said.
Pretty soon, Messaros had his hands full — taking pictures of day-to-day fair activities, animal auctions and king and queen contests.
Norton, a retired Firelands teacher and former Future Farmers of America adviser, met Messaros in 1977 during FFA competitions. There was a certain artistry to Messaros’ photos, something most photographers couldn’t capture, he said.
“He seems to be able to catch people at the right time, whether they are just biting into a caramel apple or a young person is getting licked by a horse,” he said. “He’s got an artistic flair for it. He’s like the quick draw artist. He almost sees it coming, and he has his camera up and his finger on the trigger.”
Then and now
Messaros began his photography career in eighth grade, taking pictures of his classmates at the former Maplewood School. He purchased his first camera then — a 4-by-5 Speed Graphic, which required quite a bit more work than the present point-and-shoot digital cameras.
Messaros demonstrated loading the film sheet into the camera at his Elyria studio. The bulky camera forced photographers to be more conservative with their shots, as it only took two pictures. Messaros would carry his extra film strips in his pockets — the fresh film his right pocket and the exposed film in his left — but that still left him with only six pictures.
“If I had to get a shot of something, I would probably only do one or two,” he said. “You always had to be on the ball all of the time. It made us think outside of the box and think about the shot ahead of time.”
But times quickly changed, and Messaros had to adjust.
The shift to digital pushed many traditional photographers out of business. Messaros said he is one of a few local photographers left — and one of the only photographers who used the old 4-by-5 camera — although he admitted he struggles with computerized editing, and he has employed an assistant to help.
“It’s just hard to stay in business,” he said. “Every store has the kiosks that you just take your cameras in and that’s what killed photography,” he said.
Art Brown, another Elyria photographer who counts Messaros as both a competitor and a friend, said there were perils to the digital crossover. The economy, coupled with easy access to quality photo equipment, has put the traditional photographer out of business.
“Every Christmas, when somebody gets a camera, they think they’re a professional photographer. They don’t see what we went through,” he said. “They feel like they don’t need a professional photographer anymore.”
Brown said professional photographers are important, however. They understand lighting and flattering poses — something Messaros has mastered.
Messaros, who previously worked under photographer David Neighbour, began working under his own name in 1973. In addition to fair photography, Messaros takes class pictures, senior photos and general photography.
Brown, who has been in business 33 years, said Messaros managed to stay relevant because of his loyal client base, many of whom he has met at the Lorain County Fair.
Messaros has been in business so long, he has taken school pictures of three generations of family members, and he recently photographed a third-generation wedding.
“It’s satisfying that some people will come back and remember me through the years,” Messaros said.
A pro’s secret
Messaros said the secret to success as a photographer is being a “people person,” and those who know Messaros said he fits that to a tee.
“He’s always got a smile. He always seems happy. He’s willing to go above and beyond,” said Lorain County Fair board member Ron Pickworth.
Pickworth, who has known Messaros for years through the fair, said Messaros has remained hard at work despite a semi-retirement. Every year, Messaros puts together a slideshow of his fair pictures that is then presented to local organizations.
Norton said Messaros loves the fair so much he’s even started working for them, painting the barns and ticket booths.
“I think he’s been painting for the last three summers,” Norton said. “It’s interesting to see Dan in paint-speckled pants and shirts… But he can turn a mess into a masterpiece.”
Messaros, who photographed both Pickworth’s and Norton’s weddings, has received accolades for his work as a photographer.
Messaros is on the Council of the Professional Photographers of America and on the Board of Directors for the Professional Photographers of Ohio.
In addition to 4H and Future Farmers of America honorary awards, he was named a Master Craftsman Photographer — one of the highest designations a photographer can receive.
In order to receive the accolade, a photographer must receive high scores on several photographs that are submitted to an international competition. Only a handful of photographers in Lorain County have the distinction, according to Brown.
“I just can’t say enough about Dan, as far as being a great guy,” Brown said. “All the photographers in the area think highly of him… I hope he’s around for a lot longer.”