For his newest series, “The Best of the Best,” R.J. Kern photographed pairs of champion animals at the Minnesota State Fair, reportedly one of the most competitive animal contest in the world.
At first glance “The Best of the Best” is a crimson-hued and graphic look at fair animals. Yet on a deeper level the series explores the relationship between the past and the present, using several devices to draw parallels between the 21st century and early animal contests and photography.
For instance the color red, explains Kern, is a nod to French photographer Nadar (Gaspard-Félix Tournachon, 1820–1910), who capitalized on the color to market his work. The exterior and interior walls of Nadar’s studio were red, and outside the building his name was written in large red gaslight letters. Incidentally (or not), Nadar had bright red hair and a mustache to match.
Red “also symbolizes a shared characteristic between the animals: the color of blood, whose principal ingredient is salt— an essential element for mammals and birds,” states Kern. And salt, too, plays an important role in the series.
The images in the “Best of the Best,” taken with a digital camera, are produced using a combination of 19th century salt printing techniques and contemporary inkjet technology. “It is science and art; it renders both an objective typology of animal husbandry and commentary on animal contests at this time and place,” writes Kern about combining the two printing processes. “The hand-crafted portraits reference similarities between the history and development of photography and the advent of animal contests.”
Kern points out that when the contributions of chance are thrown in, animal breeding and photography are endeavors that remind us we are not always in control. For example, two champions do not guarantee champion offspring. And in the game of photography, you don’t always know what is going to happen inside your frame.
The animals you see in the “Best of the Best,” the result of science and chance embodying ideas of beauty, are ultimately the outcome of a subjective choice.
“Animal breeding, like photography, is an arena of technical and material evolution,” summarizes Kern.
The Best of the Best
Through August 31, 2019
Burnet Fine Art & Advisory
Collector’s Edition: The Best of the Best
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