Friday, May 7, 2021
12:00 – 1:00pm
Join us for a special presentation of our Focus Friday program with artist R.J. Kern
R. J. Kern (b. 1978) is an American artist whose work explores ideas of home, ancestry, and the sense of place. He uses the photographic medium to document the interaction of people, animals, and cultural landscapes. Kern’s work has been presented in a number of publications, including a feature in National Geographic (November 2017) and was published as an award-winning monograph, The Sheep and the Goats (Kehrer Verlag, 2018). His second publication The Unchosen Ones: Portraits of an American Pastoral (published by MW Editions in 2021) will be supported by a multi-year traveling exhibition launching in 2022. Kern’s photography has been featured in notable exhibitions including National Portrait Gallery (London, UK) and the Yixian International Photography Festival (Anhui, China) and solo exhibitions include the Griffin Museum of Photography (Boston, MA). His work is collected by the Center for Creative Photography (Tuscon, AZ), Center for Photography at Woodstock (Woodstock, NY), General Mills Corporate Collection (Minneapolis, MN) and many others.
The Unchosen Ones (left)
In 2016, I created portraits of youth in the rural Midwest of the USA, photographing contestants at Minnesota county fairs. Each child—some as young as four years old—spent a year raising an animal, which they then entered into a 4-H livestock competition. None of the children I photographed succeeded in winning an award, despite the obvious care they had given to their animals. The poignant images in The Unchosen Ones depict the bloom of youth and the mettle of the kids who grow up on farms. They reveal how resilient children can be when confronted with the inevitable disappointments in life. The formal qualities of lighting and setting endow these young people with a gravitas beyond their years. Their evocative comportment and their relationships with the animals reveal self-directed dedication in some, and in others, perhaps, the pressures of traditions imposed upon them. These beautiful and stirring portraits capture a particular rural world, and a time in life when the layered emotions of youth are irrepressibly laid bare.
Out to Pasture (right)
Out to Pasture serves as a secondary, deeper glimpse of The Unchosen Ones, offering insight into the cultural landscape these animals call “home.” This work explores how we see animals in a place, how we shape that place, and how it shapes us. The pastoral environment not only serves as backdrop for better understanding the cultural and physical landscape which have shaped this species, but human behavior is often mirrored in response.