Other People’s Lives in Almost Every Picture: Erik Kessel’s Found Art

Two women walk together, hand in hand, down the street. They are twin sisters, the only tell-tale sign their identical clothes. They look quite different, but there is something behind their features that unites them. In the blink of an eye, one of the sisters disappears, never to be seen again, leaving her sibling alone in the photo. Who is taking this picture? Who was taking these pictures all along?

I am at home, on the sofa, hearing the rain pound the windows as I take a sip from my apple and ginger tea. I turn the last page of Erik Kessel‘s In almost Every Picture #4 and I take a deep breath in.

I went to his presentation a couple of weeks ago in the KK Outlet, where he talked about his found art books, pictures of other people’s lives taking over each page. The books are transformed into slow motion flip books, telling a story from beginning to end with a clarity that is heartbreaking and heartwarming at the same time. In these terms, Kessel is a storyteller that stands silently in front of you, putting in books pictures that transform them into more than just picture books; it’s not images-it’s lives.

His books have twists of life that are stranger than fiction: the unknown woman that documented time in automated photo booths (Book #6); the restaurant that would take a picture of you bottle-feeding a live pig before you had your dinner (Book #10); the husband that took pictures of his wife fully clothed immersed in water (Book #11); the pet with the mysteriously flat head and the objects it could balance on it (Book #8); the woman that got further away as time and love faded; and finally, the deers that took pictures of themselves (Book #3).

Possibly my favourite ones are books #9, #7 and #2: in #2, we meet the disabled woman that saw the world through a car window and the man who took her pictures; in #9, we see the endless, and progressively more persistent attempts of a family to photograph their tar-black dog; however a truly interesting life journey can be seen in the seventh book, where Ria van Dijk‘s life is documented as every time she hits the bull’s eye in a funfair where a picture is taken. To think that the moment she pulls the trigger of a gun she also clicks the shutter of the camera, her action leading to a string of reactions that captures this moment forever, is truly extraordinary. People around her change; she changes; technology changes; even the capturing method turns from pure analogue to Polaroid, to more modern methods. Yet still, there is this constant presence. This persistence. The person she is as everything around her changes.

Erik Kessel was telling us how he found his found art in boxes in flea markets, and how each stall might hide a different life story. I asked him if someone was to find a box belonging to him in the future, what would that book look like. He thought for a moment, and then said ‘my children; I always take pictures of my children. When they were young, and fell, or had a bloody nose, I would grab my camera and shoot them -and then go for the plaster afterwards’. At that moment, I realised what appealed to me I his work and choices: the observational view of life, the one that is not distinguishing between a beautiful or bad picture, but the one that looks at the story in front of the lens.

I also wondered about the future of found photography now that analogue is under threat. Will Flickr and Instagram be the flea markets of the future? Are they the flea markets of today? Are they the sources of peeks of other people’s lives, or are they a storytelling tool? Sharing, encountering, observing the familiar, the other.

observing other people’s lives, their thoughts, their emotions, their characters, their truth, their lies, their upbringing, their nature, their nurture, their memories, their perception, their decisions, their heartbreak, their joy, their instincts, their morals, their moments, these moments that belong to them and only them and the world that surrounds them and made them who they are, they made it what it is. Look in the picture. You will see it there.



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