R. J. Kern’s Kenzi and Hootie, Anoka County, Minnesota

R.J. Kern
Kenzi and Hootie, Anoka County, Minnesota
50×40, Edition: 1 of 3
Archival pigment print mounted on dibond, signed on verso

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Ones to Watch artist R.J. Kern’s exquisite portraits of unawarded Minnesota County Fair 4H livestock competition entries give insight into the care and caliber of young farmers. Kern sets up dramatic backdrops inside barns or on the edge of a pasture to make her portraits.


1 in stock

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The Unchosen Ones: Portraits of an American Pastoral

In 2016, I made portraits of youth contestants at Minnesota county fairs. Each participant—some as young as four years old— spent a year raising an animal, which they entered into a 4-H livestock competition. None of the youth I photographed succeeded in winning an award, despite the obvious care they have given to their animal.

Four years later, in 2020, I returned to photograph the young subjects, asking them what they carried forward from their previous experience. Some of them have continued to pursue animal husbandry while others developed other interests. We imagine some of these kids will choose to continue running their family farms, an unpredictable and demanding way to make a living.

As I created the second group of photographs, I asked them what were their thoughts, their dreams, and their goals for the future? How do they fit in the future of agricultural America?

The Unchosen Ones depicts the bloom of youth and the mettle of the kids who grow up on farms, reminding us how resilient children can be when confronted with life’s inevitable disappointments.

R. J. Kern is an American artist whose work explores ideas of home, ancestry, and a sense of place through the interaction of people, animals, and cultural landscapes. Recent solo exhibitions include the Griffin Museum of Photography and the Plains Art Museum. His work was featured in National Geographic (November 2017). Kern’s work and books have been exhibited at art fairs such as Paris Photo and Classic Photographs LA, as well as at galleries nationwide, most recently Klompching Gallery in Brooklyn, Burnet Fine Art & Advisory in Minneapolis, and Afterimage Gallery in Dallas. Accolades include Critical Mass Top 50 (2018, 2021), CENTER 2017 Choice Award Winner (Curator’s Choice, First Place), and four grants from the Minnesota State Arts Board. Public collections include the Center for Creative Photography, the Minneapolis Institute of Art, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. His second monograph, "The Unchosen Ones: Portraits of an American Pastoral," will be published by MW Editions / Artbook DAP in November 2021, supported by a multi-year traveling exhibition by ExhibitsUSA launching in 2022.