Project Statements by R. J. Kern

My life has been one of roaming – moving around without a connection to any specific place to call home. Over the years, the roaming has evolved into seeking. As an adult who is finally rooting in a place and calling it home, I am looking for an anchor. The exploration of my ancestry and cultural heritage through photography has created a thread of connectivity from past to present – a thread that is weaving a foundation for me as I begin my family and create a home for them.

My work is a photographic roots exploration with deep personal ties. Personal discovery remains a key component of this work. Growing up on the move without a strong connection to a place I called home, I am conscious of missing a place where I have fit for generations. I picked up a camera as a tool to preserve place in response to a nomadic childhood. The camera helps me to interpret and order the world. It helps me to see relationships: animals to land, people to animals, people and animals to work. The lens and film plane- and now the digital file— help me order the world, connecting one thing to another.

I am drawn to explore the connection of people to their home places. Composition and lighting are critical aspects of my photographs. Knitted into my use of bovidae are layers of symbolism, myth, and cliche. I think about these as I travel to my photo shoots using a medium format camera with studio lighting equipment.

The Unchosen Ones

The Unchosen Ones takes place on the sidelines of county fair animal contests in Minnesota in 2016. These county fairs lead up to the Minnesota State Fair, one of the largest and best-attended expositions in the world.

One isn’t born a winner or loser, but a chooser. This theme I explore in this series.

As we look at them, they look back, allowing us to think about how we choose winners and the repercussions for the ones not chosen.

The project consists of over 60 portraits made at 10 Minnesota county fairs in 2016. The photographs showcase the subject facing the camera, allowing the viewer to decide what connects and distinguishes these subjects.

With a vantage point straight onto the figures, the direct stance portrayed develops a typology, showcasing individual styles and characteristics. With a serial and systematic approach, the human condition is exposed in real-time.

Out to Pasture

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.

Divine Animals: The Bovidae

Since 2012, I have traveled to Ireland, Germany, Norway, and Iceland to investigate my pastoral roots. When I arrived, I discovered that throughout history, my people and their land have been supported by these animals – goat, sheep and ram. These animals drove the economy for generations and were sources of income and sustenance. The hoofed animals are both banal and mythical. My attraction to these animals springs from an affinity for their calm presences and their innate functional beauty. They have been shaped by the landscapes they inhabit and the lives they lead, exploring across cultural boundaries and geographic lines. While I have spent most of my life on the move, much like these animals, but these animals taught me that roaming can sustain and anchor.

 The compositions and lighting in my photographs are inspired from landscape painters Albert Bierstadt, Thomas Sidney Cooper, William Holman Hunt, and John Everett Millais along with photographers from the Pictorialist movement (1885 - 1915). In the classically pastoral, the human influence is benign and the attitude respectful, suggesting contentment. I am an environmental photographer, but I am not drawn to oil spills, unsightly encroachments, or scars on the land, but I am looking for the things humans effect nonetheless. I am interested in their domesticity and want to ask the audience the question: what makes a goat, sheep or ram? How have we influenced their evolution? What are they becoming? The question concerns why and how we have created this relationship with other species is a relationship that reflects intensively on humanity.

This entire site is copyright 2017 R. J. Kern. All of the photographs herein, unless otherwise noted, are copyrighted by the photographer. No part of the site, or any of the content contained herein, may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without express permission of the copyright holder(s).