In Almost Every Picture



A few months ago I was rooting through the old photos at one of my favourite junk stores when I found a portrait of an elderly man holding a bouquet of flowers. I took a photo of it with my phone but in a stupor opted to purchase a tacky porcelain vase instead. I went back to the store a few weeks later and thumbed through baby photos and documented trips to amusement parks, but couldn’t find the flower man. I had found this photograph, but now it was lost again. This led me to the internet, and eventually to Erik Kessels’ found photography series, In Almost Every Picture. The Dutch creative director and curator has been collecting vernacular photographs taken by amateur and unknown photographers sourced from flea markets, the internet and found family photo albums for years. Kessels’ books celebrate eccentricities and what many may view as mistakes. The legacy of a family pet, the life of a Moroccan wedding camera man, the thumb or palm that makes it into the photo. Whether a collection of hundreds of remarkably consistent pictures a husband took of his wife between 1956 and 1968, or the documentation of another couple’s love through their shared passion for “wet fun adventure,” the characters in the photos found by Kessels and his team are anonymous, yet their stories are intimate and compelling. Kessels held his first found photo exhibit in 2004 and has since released 14 In Almost Every Picture books. Here we speak to him about the INAP project and vernacular photography more broadly. 


IAEP #1: Photographs by Unknown. A Collection of hundreds of photos taken by a husband of his wife during the years 1956 to 1968.


How do you develop a theme for each In Almost Every Picture series? Or do the themes find you?

It started with a love for amateur photography from a design and advertising perspective. In advertising most photography is perfect and I learned that I find the less perfect more interesting. Most series’ I find online or at flea markets. Sometimes somebody approaches me with a series. This happened for instance with “IAEP #07.”

How much time do you spend putting a series together?

It’s the research that takes up the most time. Mostly because it depends so much on coincidence. The editing is usually done quite quickly.

What’s the main difference between finding a photo you like and taking one?

That’s an interesting question. If you take a picture yourself you are the auteur, but if you appropriate the picture of someone else you are the observer. As an observer, you have a more objective way of looking at the images. You have more distance from the work, and that lets you see different things. You can also become objective about your own pictures but that usually takes years.

What do you like about mistakes?

Everything. I think in this current age of perfection we need to celebrate mistakes more than ever. I’m actually writing a book about that.


IAEP #12: A collection of portraits of Larbi Laaraichi holding an old Panasonic camera in Fez, Morocco, a city where lots of people get married. We can assume this because Larbi has made a career as a wedding cameraman.


IAEP #14: A semi-nude detective story: who cut out all the heads of the sunbathers?


IAEP #11: Photographs by Fred Clark. A couple from Florida who share a passion for
“wet fun adventure.”

Do feel that finding the photos and putting them in a found series alters the pictures in any way? 

It doesn’t alter the images literally, but is does change the way you look at them. Everyday we see thousands of images, we see so many that we’ve basically stopped looking at them. By putting images in a different context you force people to really look at them. There is a difference between looking at pictures online and seeing them in a book or exhibition.

What are some of your all-time favourite found photographs? 

The black dog series is one of my favourites (“IAEP #09”) and the one with the Spanish lady that gets smaller and smaller (“IAEP #01”). But I see new things everyday and I’m amazed everyday. So it’s a fluid thing.

Do you feel like you are discovering artists? Or that the discovering, and the knowledge that they have been discovered, is what makes them art? Is it the artist’s gaze that transforms vernacular photography into art? If so, can “bad” art be turned into “good” art based on which artist displays it?

It’s not about how good the images are. It’s about the way the images are re-appropriated. So it’s about the knowledge that they are discovered and the way that they are presented in a different context that makes it art. Most amateur photographers make pictures because it’s a hobby, not to present them to a larger audience.


IAEP #9: Photographs by Unknown. One family attempts to photograph their black dog over and over, and the result is a collection of images that portray a black blob in different domestic situations.




Are you curious to meet the original photographers?

Yes, I usually am because it’s interesting for the story behind the pictures. If we can, and if they want to, we involve them in it.

Do you think the same approach could be taken with objects? Putting together a collection of found objects and giving it a title?

Yes definitely, although it all depends on the story behind the object. I think the stories behind pictures and objects will get more and more important in the future because we have so many of them.

How have you found the response to putting this form of photography out there? 

Photography is a very definite medium and I’m always searching for things that are open. In 2007 I made my first exposition about vernacular photography. I was surprised that people liked it so much. I think people recognize themselves in these snapshots and in “mundane” photography; it’s a nice alternative to regular, professional photography. It has become a category on its own.

Your latest series features sunbathers who are missing their heads. Who do you think chopped the head off the sunbathers? 

That was actually a photographer that took pictures of tourists on the coast of Portugal. I guess it was a holiday job. He used the heads to make buttons.

What is the next series you’re working on?

I’m always looking for a new series and I don’t know when I will find one. I’m currently working on a book about the way people censor photography (for instance at auctions).