The Unchosen Ones

“One isn’t born a winner or loser, but a chooser”

R.J. Kern

Farming can be isolating, but annual gatherings provide a chance to come together, to see what others are doing, and to showcase our own best products. County Fairs have become the venue where both city and farm folk come together and exchange ideas, exhibit their best wares, and engage in friendly competitions. Central to these fairs are livestock competitions. More than 3,200 fairs are held in North America each year. The Unchosen Ones begins on the sidelines of county fair animal contests in Minnesota in 2016. These county fairs lead up to the Minnesota State Fair, one of the largest and best-attended expositions of its kind, in the world.

This exhibition celebrates our connections to the land, and honors the agricultural traditions that were carried from the Old World to the New, showing us one of the ways humans understand animals. While this understanding includes commodity, spectacle, trophy, and power, Kern’s photographs also show us a more profound relationship between children and the animals they love.

“The simple conceit of a uniform backdrop called attention to the act of photographing and also highlighted the differences in scale, attitude, and pose among the sitters, both human and hircine. I found the project beautifully seen and surprisingly tender.” Corey Keller, Curator of Photography, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 2017

The exhibit encompasses a series of portraits of young people posing with the animals they have raised, cared for, and groomed for entry into a best animal competition, with dreams of the glory of moving on to State Fair victory. No victory is shown here, however. These animals and their young owners were not deemed champions; they came in second or third or not at all. Here, on the sidelines of the main events, these disappointed children and their beloved animals illustrate a small backstory, preserving a moment of failure, loss, love, and hope, as only photography can. 

Four years later, R. J. Kern re-photographed many of the subjects of the original series. In some cases, the animal and its handler are photographed together again. In other cases, the child has moved on and replaced the animal with some new pursuit; a tractor, a chicken, a fishing pole. Once a series about the love, pride, joy, and disappointment that comes with being passed over, The Unchosen Ones is now a record of the original sitters choosing how they will live the next part of their lives. 

A secondary layer to the exhibition continues with additional photography from the artist’s Out to Pasture series, which provides insight into the cultural landscape these animals call “home.” This work explores how we see animals in a place, how we shape that place, and how it shapes us. The pastoral environment not only serves as a backdrop for better understanding the cultural and physical landscape that have shaped this species, but how human behavior is often mirrored in response.

About the artist

R.J. Kern (b. 1978) is an American artist whose photographic works explore ideas of home, ancestry, and a sense of place through the interaction of people, animals, and cultural landscapes. His work has been exhibited in notable venues, including the Museum of Modern Art (Tbilisi, Georgia); the National Portrait Gallery (London, UK); the Yixian International Photography Festival (Anhui, China); the Griffin Museum of Photography (Winchester, MA); and the Plains Art Museum (Fargo, ND). His work has been presented in a number of publications, including a feature in National Geographic (November 2017), with his series The Unchosen Ones and Out To Pasture. Kern published his first monograph with Kehrer Verlag titled, The Sheep and the Goats, awarded one of “The Most Beautiful German Books 2018” by Stiftung Buchkunst and awarded Bronze by the prestigious Deutscher Fotobuchpreis 2018–19.

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Tour Schedule

The Unchosen Ones is touring May 2022 through April 2027. The dates below reflect five-week exhibition periods. Dates are subject to change; please contact or (800) 473-3872 x208/209 for current availability.

Exhibition Details

Fifty photographic works by R.J. Kern

  • Content

    Fee Includes:
    Press Kit
    Registrar’s Packet
    Programming Guide
    Text Panels
    Narrative Labels
    Full Insurance
    Installation Instructions
    Custom-Designed and Built Crates

  • Curated By

    ExhibitsUSA, Mid-America Arts Alliance, Kansas City, MO

  • Organized By

    ExhibitsUSA, Mid-America Arts Alliance, Kansas City, MO

  • Out-of-Region Rental Fee


  • In-Region Rental Fee


  • Duration

    seven-week display

  • Shipping

    Common Carrier

  • Running Feet


  • Square Feet


  • Security


  • Number of Crates/Total Weight

    Two crates estimated, weight TBD

  • Insurance

    The exhibition is fully insured by ExhibitsUSA at no additional expense to you, both while installed and during transit.