Album Beauty

Erik Kessels: Album Beauty

FOAM Gallery, Amsterdam
29 July – 14 October 2012

Reviewed by: Rachel Fenwick

Walking into Erik Kessels exhibition; Album Beauty, I felt as though I had stepped into a giant photo album. I was immediately greeted with an array of larger than life images taken from Kessels vast collection of family photo albums. These images filled the wall space from floor to ceiling. As I encountered the exhibition further I was invited to flick through stacks of miscellaneous photos, see some of the original albums, and appreciate the love and care that goes into creating a family photo album.  Using an exaggerated scale and  interactive participation, Kessels gives the viewer the sense that they’re walking through their own personal story.

Album Beauty is certainly not your typical white cube way in which to show a series of photographs. Kessels’ unorthodox staging of the exhibition “pushes the curated experience of a photographic exhibition.”[4] Each individual image would surely tell a fascinating story of its own, but it is the sheer volume and size of the images Kessels uses that made me feel like I was exploring the lives of those strangers. This is the reason why I have chosen to review the exhibition as a whole rather than select one image. The whole experience felt like I was viewing an installation rather than each single image. There were no titles on images, images rested against the walls; it felt like an exploration rather than a gallery setting. “The space feels homely, personal, yet all the people on the walls are strangers to me,” This was something I noted down whilst in the space and it was when re-reading this that made me realise the invasion of privacy that was occurring during the exhibition.

The notion of privacy is something Kessels is very keen to discuss. “There is no such thing as privacy anymore. With the old albums, sometime you shared one with a few friends, but probably no more than fifty sets of eyes ever looked at any given album. Even the act of taking vintage older albums and showing them in a museum is part of this shift- the private has become public.”[5] This view is something he shared in the interview he gave in response to Album Beauty. This shift in privacy is something I am becoming increasing fascinated by.  The photo album used to be something that was always there to look at in a family home, but as we are now a digital age we no longer feel the need to carefully create a loving album to share with generations to come. Facebook and other such sites have taken over. And with facebook taking over comes the issue of privacy. Like Kessels says the album was a place for intimate moments to share with the select few, but in our modern day society we are mass producing our private lives for all to see.

It is in Kessels previous exhibition, 24 Hrs in Photos, also held at the FOAM gallery, where the impact the digital age has had on amateur photography and our privacy is really made apparent. I wish I had had the opportunity to experience this installation! Kessels printed out every photo uploaded onto the net in a 24 hour period which resulted in an avalanche of images! The viewer could quite literally wade through the images. This interactive experience compares with the exploration aspect Album Beauty has, the way Kessels creates a physical attribute which the viewer can physically feel the object is something I greatly admire about him. The installation generates an “extraordinary awe” using “the sheer physical volume that would be impossible to communicate with mere statistics on a screen.”[6] Being able to pick up and rummage through personal photographs is, scarily; something we are all able to do on the net. When printed out in this extraordinary way we are forced to see it for what it really is. Our private images gone public.

Kessels told Creative Review that; “By printing all the images uploaded in a 24-hour period, I visualise the feeling of drowning in representations of other peoples’ experiences.”[8] The word I focused on here was representations. When walking through Album Beauty, Kessels had purposefully included the images that hadn’t quite worked out, been damaged over time and even the images where heads had been cut out because someone had disliked them at that time. All these images had still made it to the albums of our past because those images where still special to that person who made it. Kessels remarks our images at present are “completely disposable.”  He says “People don’t look back at last years images because they spend too much time creating new images.” [9] It’s true that the images of today are thrown about at such a high rate that images have become less precious to us. We won’t include an image on an online album if the image makes us look funny, or the image is slightly blurred. We create an edited version of our lives online. So this leads me to ask the question; is it actually a true representation of real life online or is it just all smiles for the camera?

When in the installation space of Album Beauty it is hard not to feel nostalgic for the forgotten era of the family photo album and gain a hatred for our modern day photography habits. The question is; is it such a bad thing to have the resources to be able to photograph any moment we wish not to forget? It can’t be all negative to have the ability to have so many photographs of our most celebrated moments. When thinking about the title of the exhibition, Kessels implies the beauty the album has. We see the loving labour that goes into them, the text that explains those memorable moments, the old film, and the black and white images that seem to give the album a warm glow, unachievable in a digital image. Perhaps though the memory of the album will still live on just in a different form, Kessels says; “the album will be replaced by some other memory instead, the memory of the Flickr photostream or the photo library on your phone.” [10]  The family photo album might be near extinction but the era of the photograph is well and truly alive and surely that should be celebrated.

 [4] QUINN, B., 2012, It's Nice That [Online], Available at:
[5] MARTIN, L. and KESSELS, E., 2012, Album Beauty, Exhibition held at Foam Gallery, Amsterdam, 29th June- 14th October, [Exhibition Catalogue]
[6] QUINN, B., 2012, It's Nice That [Online], Available at:
[8] WILLIAMS, E., 2011, 24 hours in photos, Creative Review [Online], Available at:
[9] MARTIN, L. and KESSELS, E., 2012, Album Beauty, Exhibition held at Foam Gallery, Amsterdam, 29th June- 14th October, [Exhibition Catalogue]
[10] MARTIN, L. and KESSELS, E., 2012, Album Beauty, Exhibition held at Foam Gallery, Amsterdam, 29th June- 14th October, [Exhibition Catalogue]