Part 2 – Project 2 : The artist as archivist

The album as archive

My parents kept photographs in envelopes as opposed to albums.  I began a family album when my children were young but didn’t continue with it so, again, our earlier photographs are kept in envelopes or boxes. They’ve also been shuffled around as I’ve searched for different photographs so have likely been separated from any negatives that accompanied them.  I seem to continually sort through them to find photographs from different eras and yet there’s the problem of which categories to use because there are so many possibilities.  My main thinking at present is to divide the photographs into years. One thing I did do, as my children moved into their own homes and settled with a partner, was to put together a small album of photographs of each as they grew up to give to them.

I have also acquired several photographs and albums through eBay. One album covers the period from 1957 to 1970 and has a collection of mainly holiday snaps in France









There are two others that are more intriguing as, apart from being in the same make of album – except larger –  they actually contain photographs of children at the school I used to go to as a child, so I think they may have belonged to an ex-teacher.  Additionally though, some of the pages are of trips abroad as well.









Similar poses, in front of landmark buildings, that place the person in the place and prove the visit.

 The work of Erik Kessels.

Erik Kessels  has, of course, collected these types of  ‘found’ images for years. I have written about him  before here  after seeing his Exhibition in Arles in 2013  and  (including Joachim Schmid) here  . Tim Clark’s interview with Kessels, on the Exhibition and book Album Beauty, covers similar ground.

While there are no critically important pictures here they are nonetheless glorious in their dullness. In a sense then, it’s a form of archaeology that lists the detritus of beauty, boredom, travel, companionship, innocence, youth, pride and participation.

That’s true and Kessels is certainly an archaeologist, but he transformed those abandoned images and albums into something sculptural, to walk around and explore. I was also reminded of Kessels’ interest in ‘less than perfection’ and what that reveals. I find him interesting to listen to and the video interview by Vogue Italia (2013) against the background of his Exhibition in Arles referred to is well worth a look – it can be located here

The Module Handbook refers to  In Almost Every Picture book No. 7.  Rita van Dijk, a young woman from Tilburg in Holland followed a travelling Fair which has a shooting gallery – in the sense that every time the target is hit this triggers a camera shutter.  The pictures were collected into a book in 2008 by Erik Kessels and Joep Elijkens . There is text commentary at the back of this book – PDF here  drawing attention to what else is recorded other than Rita’s ‘self-portraits’ – the people who were there; the clothes; the haircuts etc but no explanation of how Kessels and Elijkens acquired the photographs, or perhaps permission to use them.  Apparently Ria returned to the fair in 2016. So the book has now been brought up-to-date  .  There was an exhibition at the Photographers Gallery (12th October 2012-6 January 2013) Shoot  including work by many artists in addition to Erik Kessel’s, with an opportunity to take your own portrait in a photographic shooting gallery. What a shame I missed it.

I own another book in the series In Almost Every Picture: v4 (2005) containing photographs of two sisters  from January 1940 to July 1949 We see them in Barcelona and Madrid – sometimes just the two of them, other times with children (who appear to be the same children, growing older), older women and with men.

Towards the end of the book we see only one of them – leaving us to wonder what happened to the other. The two sisters are always wear identical outfits, although their outfits change. These photographs are more obviously about the people than the place , with the sisters larger in the frame.

Unless, of course, Kessels has manipulated the photographs in some way. Again, there is text commentary at the back which allows the viewer to create a narrative, ask questions on looking through the photographs.  They are not professional photographs yet full of interest. Why are these women dressed alike when they are not identical twins. Who are these people who accompany them?  Their several outfits look expensive, maybe they are on holiday and dressed in their best.  Who are the men – husband, boyfriend, cousins, friend? Who are the children and the older women? Who took these photographs?  Kessels informs us in the text that they are sororal twins, but not identical “The truth is adjusted by them and by the record of their existence creating new truths that mean something different or something even more  as time progresses” . How does he know they are twins, even sororal ones,  rather than sisters?  There must be a backstory to this?

Kessels also reminds us that these photographs were taken during World War II, “Not far away from these images of a natural joy, immense tragedy unfolds. The weight of this time in our history threatens the edges of these…..” It does, and yet only one person is in some kind of uniform (I did a Google image search but couldn’t find a similar uniform).  What they remind me is that everyday life continued and people found enjoyment sometimes despite the mayhem that was going on around them.



Kessels, E and Whisnand, T (2205) In Almost Every Picture: v4, KesselsKramer, Amsterdam








  1. I think you’ve developed ‘a’ back story and I wonder if indeed that is the point? I’m still intrigued about the album you recovered from the Sheffield of your youth, must be ripe for story, which you seem to be quite adept?


  2. I enjoyed reading this post — contemplating how to categorise your family photographs brought to mind the mammoth task I must start at some point –mine are all scattered around the house in boxes , suitcases etc . Giving your children an album each is a lovely idea & perhaps one I need to do for mine.


    1. It is a wonderful line. Kessels has such a poetic way of writing about and creating narratives with the photographs. I’m currently wondering as well, whether the photographs in no. 13 of the series (the ones where all of them have a thumb in the frame) are actually the same family.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. An interesting post with lots of refs for follow-up. I had been wondering whether to get some old albums off eBay too, but the discovery of a treasure trove at my father’s this week has put that on hold for now.


  4. I enjoyed reading this Catherine. As always, something completely different from what I am working on and reminding me of the mammoth task that awaits all of us with boxes and boxes of prints and negatives waiting to be catalogued. I thought it would be easy once retired but what did I do? I continuously make the archive even bigger! Perhaps I should dispose of it on eBay on condition that the buyer makes something new from it and gives me a copy!


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