Erik Kessels’ Album Beauty and 24HRS of Photos
At the Palais del’Archevêché.
When traveling between the many exhibitions of the Arles in Black festival, I wanted to write about exhibits that truly interested me, as opposed to just writing one off for an assignment. When I came to Erik Kessels’ exhibition, I was immediately taken by the presentation of his series. Giant displays that mimicked photo albums, oversized books placed in the middle of the floor, and cutouts of people from past eras greeted us as we walked in the room.
Album Beauty is like literally stepping into a family photo album. And that seems to be Kessels’ intent, with the exhibit being called “an ode to the vanishing era of the photo album”. The exhibit is made entirely of collected photos by Kessels, many of them from garage sales or markets. By collecting photographs taken from numerous family albums around the world, he creates a sort of universal family photo collection.
Each photograph was able to catch my attention because every single one came from a unique and specific moment in the lives of a random family. It felt totally out of place to see these photographs on a gallery wall, yet there was an artistic quality to them that would never be appreciated if not for this exhibit. I even found my doppelganger amongst the bunch.
Kessels is considered a collector of “vernacular photography”, the photos of everyday life by amateur photographers that largely go unnoticed. But Kessels takes the personal and private world of family albums and snapshots, and thrusts it into the realm of art photography and galleries. In a time when social media and digital photography have replaced the physical album, Album Beauty gives it the recognition it deserves.
Paired with Album Beauty was another of Kessels’ projects, 24HRS of Photos. A room, literally covered in photographs that form a giant pile. The cascade of 35mm prints is representative of all the photos uploaded to social media sites in a 24-hour period. The effect is overwhelming and faces the viewer with the sheer amount of media content that is present in our everyday lives.
24HRS of Photos makes a perfect companion to Album Beauty because in many ways, they are opposites, comparing past to present. Advancing technology always presents an uncertain future for art forms, but Kessels’ exhibits take a look at the state of photography today, and honor the past at the same.