Set against rural and urban German landscapes, the photographs by Josh Kern (b. 1993) give us an open and honest glimpse into the everyday moments of a young individual’s life and those who inhabit it. From family tableaux in domestic spheres to portrayals of friendships, crushes and first lovers at parties and skateparks, Kern creates images of sincere biographical content.
Manifesting both a sense of melancholy, anguish and vulnerability as well as bliss and ecstasy, his work spreads across both ends of the emotional spectrum. Referencing the look and feel of a sketchbook or observational diary, his self-published publications act as time-stamped documents reflecting the artist’s view on adulthood.
Shot exclusively with an analog camera, his work is driven by spontaneity and intimacy. He does not shy away from showing the raw and real, which is not only evident in his choice of subject matter, but also in his technical approach and editing. Whether dreamy and soft or dark and full of grain, imperfections like the occasional dust and scratches left on the film emulsion, allow for a poetic reading of his oeuvre and give rise to its strong materiality and tenderness.
Providing the viewer an insight into how his creative work came into existence, Kern intersperses his photographs with taped-in contact sheets, scribbled notes and inked-washed thoughts. Demonstrating his awareness of the importance of process and execution, he in essence reverses the idea of the workbook as the final artwork itself. Highly personal, nothing is hidden from the viewer, yet still, the mystifying presence that surrounds his work remains, keeping us curious and engaged.
His third photobook titled Räuber (German for “Robber”) is about his younger brother Jascha, who grows up with their mom on a farm, 5 kilometres outside of a city called Kaiserslautern in Germany. Jascha is the only kid living there, except for some chickens and baby goats. If he wants to visit his friends, he needs to convince his mum to drive him to the city, hence why he probably spends most of his time playing with the animals.
Fifteen years apart in age, Kern had already moved out when Jascha was still very young, but really wanted to get to know his little brother better and figured that documenting him with his camera would be the best excuse for that, whilst also reminiscing on his own childhood. The two found that despite the age gap, they were able to close the distance and form a quality bond through photography. Over the years when Kern returned home, they worked closely together, collecting Jascha’s drawings and letters, as well as giving him a point and shoot camera to document things with, which mostly ended up being his chickens.
With this project Kern wants other people to understand what it feels like to grow up in an environment that already belongs to the past. “Only once I really started to follow Jascha around and document him did I realize how good it felt to spend time with him. His company allowed me to be completely careless and childish. Although he cares more about other beings than anyone else I have met so far. All these things that he loves felt so similar to me… And somehow he is such a sensitive person, which does not make things easy, especially as a boy. My mother often says that she is going through the exact same things with him as she already did with me”, he explains.