Photographer R.J. Kern’s project “The Unchosen Ones” features 60 posed portraits of kids with goats and sheep who lost competitions at 10 different county fairs last summer (they are, literally, the unchosen ones). Winners of such competitions go on to breed with other animals, while the “losers” go home or live out the remainder of their lives somewhere else, like on a hobby farm.
The posed portraits appear somewhat off-kilter as well, exposing the stylized, hand-painted backdrops, which become part of the portrait. This makes the photographs look more process-oriented, as if these were borrowed from the set of a TV show, or perhaps a reality TV show like “Goats Gone Wild!” (Yes, I made that up. Lol.)
The series is part of a five-year project for Kern, who has been investigating his ancestral roots in Norway, Iceland and Germany, and is inspired by the composition of light in European landscape paintings.
“I wondered how I could continue this project in my own home state?” says Kern, when we spoke by phone. “I moved around a lot growing up, which made me think of roaming animals and roots.”
The local tie-in, for Kern, happened when he encountered animals at county fairs. The showcasing of them also reminded him of the ways that humans shape animals’ evolution, making the competitions like animal-versions of beauty pageants.
The duality of winning and losing was also inspired by the 2006 Will Ferrell film "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby," about a high-ranking NASCAR driver who comes to question his dedication to winning at all costs. “If you ain’t first, you’re last,” says Bobby’s father, played by Gary Cole.
Funded through a Minnesota State Arts Board grant, Kern’s goats and sheep are also on view at Gallery 360 through May 28. More information here: http://www.gallery360mpls.com/current/index.php
"Kenzi and Hootie, Anoka County Fair"
"Louis and Dumb, Freeborn County Fair"