The Best of the Best

The Best of the Best documents supreme champion animals at the 2018 Minnesota State Fair, one of the most competitive and popular animal contests in the world. Like animal breeding, photography has always been an arena of technical and material evolution. Highlighting the spirit of competition and the role of chance, this series explores the relationship between the present and the past, drawing inspiration from the moment that the earliest animal contests coincided with the first major exhibition of photography at the 1851 World’s Fair in London.

With breeding often considered a lost art, I wanted to document this unique experience where the equivalent of a dozen pairs of animal species are deemed “supreme champion,” (a.k.a. the best of the best). I digitally photographed winning domesticated animals, then used 19th-century salt printing techniques and merged these into a single print. The process combines science and art: as objective typology of animal husbandry and a social documentary of animal contests in a decisive time and place.

The photos celebrate tradition, hard work, branding, striving for excellence and, most importantly, quality. The color red is a unifying force across the images as it weaves together historical elements from photographer Nadar, who employed the color in marketing his work, and profoundly underlines the lifeline shared by all mammals: blood. These carefully crafted portraits of animals (chickens, horses, llamas, pigs, sheep, goats, rabbits, turkeys, cattle, dogs, geese, ducks) pay homage to and contemplates the medium of photography and its shared history with animal contests.