R.J. Kern was chosen by the Minnesota State Fair to create the 2019 Commemorative Art work. The first photographer to be commissioned by the fair, Kern’s work captures the interaction of people, animals and landscapes to explore the concepts of home, history and place.

The piece he created for the “Great Minnesota Get-Together” is entitled “Minnesota State Fair Supreme Champion Pairings from 2018.” During the 2018 State Fair, several animals, including llamas, sheep, poultry, rabbits, pigs, cattle, goats, horses and dogs, were immediately escorted to his photography studio on the fairgrounds after winning the title “Supreme Champion” – the best of the best, in other words – in their respective competitions.

“Minnesota State Fair Supreme Champion Pairings from 2018,” by R.J. Kern, is the 2019 Commemorative Art work for the Minnesota State Fair.

Interestingly, his series “The Unchosen Ones” was featured in National Geographic in 2017. A kind of mirror of this State Fair photograph, “The Unchosen Ones” captures portraits of the animals that didn’t win the title of “Supreme Champion” at various county fairs – and the series often documents those that came in last. The contrast of these two creative works underlines the story behind the story of the State Fair: Yes, the young farmers are here to compete. But what is gained – regardless of a win or a loss – is far more important.

In 2016, we featured Kern in an installment of “Artist Day Jobs,” a video series that showcases some of the unlikely gigs artists rely on to make ends meet while they pursue their art. In the video, Kern echoes this idea of the importance of the journey over the destination when describing his approach to his day joy as a Martial Arts Trainer: “Our goal is teaching life skills through martial arts. And if they also learn to kick and punch, great.”

Kern also draws a connection between his photography and his job that echoes the idea of being chosen: “Everyone is treated equal. It’s not necessarily not getting chosen for the sports team or sitting on the bench. In martial arts, everyone is participating. No one is left out.”

A limited number of signed prints of Kern’s 2019 State Fair photo are available to purchase.


Need more Minnesota State Fair in your life? In addition to seed art, butter-carved busts of the Princess Kay of the Milky Way finalists is also about as Minnesota as it gets. Meet Linda Christensen, the woman behind the magic.

Minnesota State Fair, circa 1992. Step back in time and meet some of the people who make the Fair spectacularly Minnesotan.

Minnesota-based photographer Alec Soth almost gave up the creative work that fueled his career. But then a dilapidated house in the country revived his creative energy.