The Unchosen Ones: Portraits of an American Pastoral

R.J. Kern, Photographer

Exhibit Launch, Book Signing & Artist Reception:
     January 20, 5 – 7pm
     Talk at 6pm

Exhibit January 13 – March 25, 2023
Kaul Gallery

Image Gallery
Click any image to begin slideshow

Kern interviews his Subjects:

Click an image to play through R.J. Kern’s Vimeo page


Advice for Competitors

Life Skills

George Floyd and Black Lives Matter

COVID-19, Family, and Hope

The original exhibit “The Unchosen Ones” (on display at Watermark in 2020) encompassed a series of portraits of young people posing with the animals they have raised, cared for, and groomed for entry into a best animal competition, with dreams of the glory of moving on to State Fair victory. No victory is shown here, however. These animals and their young owners were not deemed champions; they came in second or third or not at all. Here, on the sidelines of the main events, these disappointed children and their beloved animals illustrate a small backstory, preserving a moment of failure, loss, love, and hope, as only photography can.

Four years later, R. J. Kern re-photographed many of the subjects of the original series. In some cases, the animal and its handler are photographed together again. In other cases, the child has moved on and replaced the animal with some new pursuit; a tractor, a chicken, a fishing pole. Once a series about the love, pride, joy, and disappointment that comes with being passed over, the original series has been updated and is now a new exhibit and expanded record of the original sitters choosing how they will live the next part of their lives. This latest book, ‘The Unchosen Ones: Portraits of an American Pastoral” and exhibit will launch at Watermark on January 20, 2023 from 5 to 7pm with an author signing and reception.

Kern asked what they had carried forward from their previous experience. What were their thoughts, their advice, their dreams and their goals for the future? How do they fit in future agricultural America?

“Not being chosen for something has a valuable upside,” notes Kern. “As I explored these young people’s doubts, fears, and frustrations, I was heartened to learn of their ability to overcome adversity and rise to a challenge, whether it was self-imposed or one that life threw at them.”

In “The Unchosen Ones” and “The Unchosen Ones: Portraits of an American Pastoral” the formal qualities of Kern’s lighting and setting capture his young subjects’ dignity and wisdom,
revealing self-directed dedication in some, and in others the pressures of traditions imposed upon them. The result are images that not only tap into the mindset of America’s agricultural youth, but also depict a way of life fast disappearing in modern American, the small family farm.

“The Unchosen Ones” was on display at Watermark in early 2020. View that exhibit gallery and listen to an interview with R.J. Kern. →

About the Artist R. J. Kern is an American artist whose work explores ideas of home, ancestry, and the sense of place. His photography documents the interaction of people, animals, and cultural landscapes. His work has been exhibited in a number of notable exhibitions, including the Museum of Modern Art (Tbilisi, Georgia), the National Portrait Gallery (London, UK), and the Yixian International Photography Festival (Anhui, China).

In addition to numerous awards and exhibitions, Kern’s work has been featured by National Geographic, the BBC, PBS, PDN, and the Royal Photographic Society Journal.

This activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota, through a grant from the Region 2 Arts Council, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.
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