Dutch publisher and artist Erik Kessels collects ‘found’ photographs’, in a long-term artistic endeavour to tell the bigger story.

Snapshots of the average Joe have peaked in popularity in recent years, along with the increased interest in the blogosphere and social media. Street photography blogs are appearing left, right and centre. One of the most famous is ‘Humans Of New York’, a website based on shots of individuals along with quotes from the conversation the photographer has had with them.


But Dutch publisher and artist Erik Kessels is withdrawing from the modern world of public digital photography, discovering hidden gems of private snaps never intended for public viewing and placing them directly in the public eye.

Kessels is championing ‘found’ or vernacular photography; he scours flea markets, vintage fairs, junk shops and more recently online photo sites such as Flickr. He takes his findings and creates narratives through photography books printed by his Amsterdam-based print house ‘KesselKramer’. To him, serious photography ‘has grown so boring and humourless. All these photographers with large-format cameras making big landscapes with a power plant in the background with everything so beautiful and perfect. That is something I really hate. What I am looking for is ordinary photographs that tell a bigger story.’

Kessels’ most recent release ‘Me TV’, does just that. It is a series of eight surreal shots of one woman in an identical position, even down to the positioning of her arm on the cabinet, stood in front of a TV set. You would be forgiven, at first glance to think it is the same photograph copied, if it wasn’t for the woman’s variation in outfits. 

A seemingly insignificant photo to most eyes, Kessels saw something much more profound. The artist was quoted explaining the context surrounding the image, which brings an entire new dimension to the way viewers experience his art. It appears that this specific image is a an indication as to what an extraordinary thing was to own a new television in China, in the 1980s; the woman’s pride, obvious to the naked eye, is one of the key components of the picture. The series, Kessels said,  has the characteristics of a documentary, and this is the origin of its unusual beauty.

7487352600_5c7a38237f_oHis other collections are perhaps less historically significant and more of a goldmine reflecting the fascinating eccentricity of humanity. The ‘In Every Picture Series’ is a collection of twelve books of vernacular photos. The first features a husband and wife over several years, always in the same pose, just different locations and times. Another is of a beloved and incredibly photogenic Dalmation.

Perhaps the most unconventional of Kessels’ ‘In Every Picture Series’ is of the couple who share a passion for a ‘wet, fun adventure’. Wife Valerie appears in every snapshot fully clothed and partially submerged in a body of water. It is this eccentricity in normality that Kessels champions: “the people I like are amateur obsessives,” says Kessels. “They have no limits and no ambitions. They make different choices to artists because they are not thinking of the gallery. They are almost blind to things like good taste because they are in their own zone. You enter their world when you look at their work. It is often a world that may seem strange to the rest of us, but that is also its beauty. That and the stories their photographs tell us.”

 — Hannah Seaton, Correspondent (Art)

Image Courtesy: © Dimer van Santen