COLLECTOR’S EDITION: The Best of the Best

Edition 2 of 12 currently available


The COLLECTOR’S EDITION of The Best of the Best by R. J. Kern represents the artist’s third book project which engages a range of artisans and essayists. This project debuted in a solo exhibition at Burnet Fine Art & Advisory in Wayzata, Minnesota, August 8 - 31, 2019.

The project coincides with the commemorative artwork commissioned for the 2019 Minnesota State Fair. This artist book—illustrated with a classic photographic processing including both hand-coated salt prints and contemporary salt prints over archival pigment prints—marks and celebrates this milestone.

Each COLLECTOR’S EDITION contains a 15-page accordion-fold visual book and print folio. From its 11 x 14 x 3 inch box, the accordion-fold book unfolds into a sequence of photographs and three-dimensional pop-ups. The book includes twelve bound salt prints along with four pop-up salt prints with salt print backgrounds. The book may be opened from either direction and displayed upright in an array of presentation shapes to include a rectangle (similar to barn stalls), a star, or a line. If exhibited in a rectangle form, dimensions are 41.25 x 31 inches. The print folio includes one freestanding salt-over-archival pigment print signed by R. J. Kern; each of these prints is a unique animal pair drawn from an edition of 10.

The salt prints were printed and gold-toned by the artist on Fabriano Bristol+ (250 gsm) paper, waxed with white beeswax and lavender oil. The pop-up elements were constructed and hand-cut by Kyle Olmon with the application of a pH-neutral archival polyvinyl acetate (PVA) glue. Keith Taylor created the book binding, book cradle, and print folio. Each of the pages was made with book board, bound using archival materials and processes. The Dragon EF font by Elsner + Flake was used in the embossing and text. The red canvas backdrop used in the photographic project was painted by Sarah Oliphant using acrylic on canvas prepared with gesso. A cut segment from this canvas appears in the book cradle of the wooden box. Jeff Berg built the walnut and maple spline presentation box and prepared the UV-protecting acrylic glazing with pull tab. The archival pigment prints were printed by Ethan Aaro Jones on Hahnemühle Photo Rag Ultra Smooth (305 gsm) paper. The salt prints and the salt-over-archival pigment prints were printed by R. J. Kern in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

The Best of the Best is an edition of eighteen copies; twelve copies numbered 1-12; two copies noted AP1 and AP2 for the artist; three contributors’ copies lettered A, B, C; and one hors commerce copy—each signed by the artist and contributors.


  • Twelve bound gold-toned salt prints, waxed with white beeswax and lavender oil

  • Four pop-up salt prints with salt print backgrounds, waxed with white beeswax and lavender oil

  • One freestanding salt over archival pigment print signed by R. J. Kern; each of these prints is a unique animal pair drawn from the edition of ten. Choose from the following: cattle, chickens, dogs, ducks, geese, goats, horses, rabbits, sheep, swine, and turkeys.

  • Twelve copies numbered 1 -12 available for sale: one copy per animal pair.

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R. J. KERN, Artist & Publisher

KYLE OLMON, Pop-up Book Artist

KEITH TAYLOR, Master Book Binder

ETHAN AARO JONES, Master Digital Printer

SARAH OLIPHANT, Master Backdrop Painter

JEFF BERG, Master Wood Craftsman


ANJULI J. LEBOWITZ, Department of Photographs, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

ERIC T. KUNSMAN, Visual Communications Studies, Rochester Institute of Technology, Rochester, NY

Essay Excerpt by Anjuli J. Lebowitz:

Do animals have a claim on history? Is culture expressed in the shape of a beak, girth of an udder or the slope of a snout? With their abbreviated lifespans, do they carry cultural memory in their feathers, fur, and hides? These are the questions R. J. Kern poses in The Best of the Best. With twelve pairs of animals—one female, one male—Kern intertwines the history of animal competitions with the history of photography to explore some of humanity’s most urgent questions about its relationship to its fellow earthly creatures and their interwoven fates. Kern’s intricate prints, which layer salt prints over digital prints, foreground historical inquiry, human intervention, and nature’s persistence.


Kern weaves these together through the warp and weft of sepia and scarlet, matte and glossy, salt and blood paying tribute to the histories of photography and animal competitions while laying a path for the evolution of the one and the preservation of the other.

– Excerpt from the essay, Salt of the Earth: R. J. Kern’s The Best of the Best, by Anjuli J. Lebowitz, Department of Photographs, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC