R. J. Kern - The Best of the Best

Aug 8, 2019 - Aug 31, 2019

Opening reception, Thursday August 8, 6-8pm.

Public welcome!

The Best of the Best records champion animals at the 2018 Minnesota State Fair, one of the most competitive animal contests in the world. Animal breeding, like photography, has been an area of both technical and material evolution. This series explores the relationship between the present and the past, drawing parallels between early animal contests at agricultural fairs and the first major exhibition of photography at the 1851 World’s Fair in London.

“In The Best of the Best, I wanted to document an event in which 12 pairs of animal species are judged supreme champion- the best of the best. Using a digital camera, I photographed winning exemplars of domesticated animals then combined 19th-century salt printing techniques and contemporary inkjet technology into images that emphasize changes in breeds over time and advances in photographic 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. The hand-crafted portraits reference similarities between the history and development of photography and the advent of animal contests.”

The color red is a unifying element and a nod to French photographer Nadar (Gaspard-Félix Tournachon, 1820–1910), who used the color in marketing his work. Historically, the color red has represented life, health, and victory. It also symbolizes a shared characteristic between the animals: the color of blood, whose principal ingredient is salt- an essential element for mammals and birds, that also propelled the evolution of photography.

Salt prints, a photographic process popular between 1839-1860, connects to photography’s historical roots; printing on them digitally connects to the present. The subtle tones of salt printing express mood and emotion, a contrast to the sharpness of a digital print. Subject, process, emotion, science, and combine to make both an immediate document and a comment on photography’s past, present, and future.