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The Unchosen Ones: Portraits of an American Pastoral

R. J. Kern

Rj Kern

R.J. Kern

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). Accolades include Critical Mass 2018 Top 50, 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.

rjkern.com



David With Sheep And Grandpa, Pastoral Study, 2020

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. The formal quality of the lighting and setting endow these young people with a gravitas beyond their years, revealing self-direction dedication in some, and in others, perhaps, the pressures of traditions imposed upon them. The portraits capture a particular America, a rural world, and a time in life when the layered emotions of youth are laid bare.

Dustin, Pastoral Study, 2020

Dustin, Pastoral Study, 2020

Eric And R. J., Pastoral Study, 2020

Eric And R. J., Pastoral Study, 2020

David With Sheep And Grandpa, Pastoral Study, 2020

David With Sheep And Grandpa, Pastoral Study, 2020

Hannah And Howard, Pastoral Study, 2020

Hannah And Howard, Pastoral Study, 2020



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