Erik Kessels is something of an enigma in the photography world. Rising quickly to international prominence, his books, exhibitions and collaborations have caught the zeitgeist during a sustained period of self-examination for photography.
In this short interview for Photoworks magazine, Kessels explains his understanding of who his audience is and of the impact of his publications.
Photoworks – Can you describe KesselsKramer. Also, what do you publish and why?
Erik Kessels – KesselsKramer is a communications agency based in Amsterdam and London.
We make communication for international clients but also like to dig into a diverse range of projects: product design; documentary and publishing.
We’ve published a number of our own books and also books in partnership with other publishers (such as ‘2 kilo of Kesselskramer’ and ‘one hundred and one things to do’). We fund new books through advance sales and have built up a network of interested parties through the years. Our publishing remit comes from the obsessions and interests of those inside KesselsKramer. One of those biggest obsessions is photography.
<strong>PW – Who do you see as you audience?
EK – People similar to us– people with creative disciplines. However it can be more diverse than that. Through the web you naturally reach a wider scope of people from different backgrounds.
PW – Why do you suppose this group buys your books and what do you see them getting from them? Do they use them to stimulate their own practice, do the books and images you use resonate with their lives in some way, or do they buy them to collect?
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EK – I think you’ve answered your own question. It can be all of the above. If creatives use them as inspiration its probably because they have some resonance with the work they make. Collecting, I imagine, is secondary and for a minority.
PW – How do you see your work differing from the work of other artists using
found photography in their practice – Joachim Schmid for instance?
EK – We both come from totally different backgrounds and I have a big respect for his work. I come from a communication background specifically in advertising and design –that is my main area of working. Found photography is one aspect of the publishing side. Joachim works predominately with found photography.
PW – Yes, but conceptually how do they differ? How would you describe the way in which you use found photography – it is read into in all kinds of ways, but how do you intend it to be read.
EK – In the use of materials we don’t differ so much. Neither of us takes our own photography. Both of us are inviting viewers to re-look at existing photography in new contexts. But when I say we come from different backgrounds, it means we tell different things with the work. My communication background can be seen in ‘In Almost Every Picture’ for example because it is more about telling a story than presenting found photography as art.
PW – Why do you limit the editions of your publications to relatively small numbers?
EK – Since we fund the books through advance sales the number of editions we sell are based on these sales. If they sell out we would consider – and have done on some books – reprinting.
PW – Would you say your work is commenting mainly on photography – is it about photography?
EK – Each book series is different. Useful Photography comments on the way we use photography in our daily life. How photography that has specific uses can escape our attention until we put it in a new context – and then we see it with new eyes. In Almost Every Picture is about photo collections however it is predominately about the reason behind these collections – the story, the people, the obsessive repeating nature of the collections and why they were made.
PW – Do you ever make your own photographs – rather than using found images?
EK – At KesselsKramer, I’m used to working a lot with other photographers – it’s a big part of the job to brief photographers on commissions for clients. So part of my interest in other photography comes from that way of working. I also have a stupidly unhealthy obsession with collecting photo collections. I do make my own photos and have enough Polaroid cameras to fill Belgium, but I keep these to myself and my family.
PW – Useful Photography seemed to be partly about the democratisation of photography but some issues are now unavailable. How do you feel about the collectors market for books – the question of resource versus commodity?
EK – As mentioned, we will reprint if the demand is there. The books aren’t published in the quantities they are published to make them desirable for the collectors’ market. But you’re right about the democratization of photography. Useful photography just collects all these photographs that you have seen in great quantity out in the world – whether it’s on the internet or in marketing brochures. Useful Photography simply categorises them.
PW – Again, for what purpose?
EK – Because in a new context they can be viewed in a different way. They have a new purpose – they can be enjoyed simply for the images they are rather than just looked at for the dry or factual purpose they were previously prescribed for.
PW – Are any of your works fictions? I am particularly interested in the ‘In Almost Every Picture’ series when asking this question, but it would be good to hear about others.
EK – I always leave it open to the reader to decide but I do like that every book has its own story to help give it a place. These are not just random collections, they have their own history and character. When I resource the collections I’m always keen to hear about where they came from and it’s these stories that give them honesty. A lot of the times, when the books are published it opens more doors – you hear more about the background of the photography (for example with the first In Almost Every Picture book and exhibition we found out more about the woman in the photographs) – it becomes almost like post-investigative journalism.
PW – Do you ever get people contacting you about pictures of them that you have used and, if so, are they happy, annoyed, surprised, confused?
EK – People contact me with their own collections – and I have worked with them on producing some In Almost Every Picture books – for example the 5th in the series about the dalmation dog.
The books also give an open invitation to get in touch and help complete the stories. The exhibitions help in this – for the first In Almost Every Picture, we held an exhibition in Barcelona where the photos were found and we managed to complete the story of the woman in the photographs.
PW – Are your own works primarily conceived as exhibitions or publications?
EK – First and foremost they are for publications – if exhibitions can follow, then that’s great too.
PW – In the book Models for instance, though this could apply to other books, there seems to be a sense of humor on display – almost like you are asking the audience to laugh along with your joke (maybe at the expense of the subject).
EK – In context, and in their original form, Models is very serious. Or at least, has a very direct and business-like purpose. Out of context they could be construed as having humor. They could also be seen from a fashion perspective. Or an historical purpose. Up to the viewer.
PW – How do you see your work with photography continuing and evolving and will this always result in photography publications?
EK – I have a huge interest in the democratization of photography and imagery. Our publications follow this trend and try to comment on it. There is no fixed plan on how to continue. Every new day can bring a new fascination.
Published in Photoworks issue 09, 2006Buy Photoworks issue 9