Sometimes it takes a moment to spot the bovid in R.J. Kern’s images—against a steep green hillside in Sygnefjell, Norway, two sheep poke their heads from behind a bush. In Stearns County, Minnesota, a goat emerges from a wooden shack to look at the camera, watched by a nearby dog. But more often, the animals are the unabashed stars of the images in his new book The Sheep and the Goats, published this month by Kehrer Verlag. In images made in Ireland, Germany, Norway and Iceland, and in Minnesota, where he lives, Kern records sheep and goats in resplendence light—often the result of flashes and strobes he brings to the countryside where he works. Pictured against foggy mountains or mossy forests, or in barren winter fields under pale skies, Kern’s subjects look back at the camera with what could be curiosity or amusement, resignation or pride, implied by strong goat eye contact or tilt of a sheep’s fuzzy head.
Begun as a project to explore his personal history by looking at the landscapes in the countries of his ancestry, the photos in The Sheep and the Goats fall into the category of the pastoral, the literary and visual exploration and celebration of shepherds and rural life. But the appeal of the subject is also more elemental. As Kern tells Stuart Klipper in an interview in the book, “Sheep and goats are among the earliest domesticated animals. I appreciate that kinship and tradition. It is also hard to take yourself too seriously in the field with animals running around and doing their thing. It’s fun, low stress. I’m outside, and not under time constraints. I like the challenge of working with the unpredictability of animal movements. It’s difficult, and it requires of me patience and a sense of humor.”
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