Installation shot of Unfinished Father, 2015, by Erik Kessels
Installation shot of Unfinished Father, 2015, by Erik Kessels

Why is Erik Kessels’ dad’s car up for a photo prize?

How the famous photo curator's 2015 exhibition Unfinished Father made the Deutsche Börse Prize short list

Erik Kessels, the Dutch art director, ad agency founder and photography curator, is a pretty energetic guy. So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to discover that his dad was equally active, right up until 2014, when he suffered a stroke. Indeed, Kessels Sr had spent much of his later years restoring classic Fiat 500 Topolino cars. He had completed four such restorations, and had a fifth vehicle in progress, when his health took a turn for the worse.

 

From Unfinished Father, 2015, by Erik Kessels
From Unfinished Father, 2015, by Erik Kessels

And it was this final, incomplete restoration that formed the basis of Erik Kessels’ 2015 exhibition, Unfinished Father, shown at Fotografia Europea in Reggio Emilia, near Bologna, Italy, last summer and now shortlisted for the Deutsche Börse Photography Prize 2016.

While the photographic merits of the show might not be immediately apparent, Kessels Jr did display both the unfinished Fiat alongside photographs of car parts and images that were taken by his father, to express the lack of closure one often finds when a close relative’s health declines.

 

From Unfinished Father, 2015, by Erik Kessels
From Unfinished Father, 2015, by Erik Kessels

“For me, this work is about a man who — like his vehicle — will never be complete, but will remain unfinished,” Kessels explains. “While films and stories teach us that endings are neat and often happy, the truth is that everything ends abruptly, more or less half-done. No matter how carefully we plan and how precisely we execute those plans, there is no guarantee that they will reach our hoped for conclusion.”

 

From Unfinished Father, 2015, by Erik Kessels
From Unfinished Father, 2015, by Erik Kessels

While Erik did not shoot every image in the exhibition, his eye for a sharp image, and his ability to spot a good story – or occasionally a distinct lack of one – certainly places him at the forefront of contemporary photo curation and connoisseurship, and within the Deutsche Börse's purview; the prize aims to recognise the most significant contribution to the medium of photography in Europe in the previous year.

 

From Unfinished Father, 2015, by Erik Kessels
From Unfinished Father, 2015, by Erik Kessels

European gallery goers can see Kessels’ project alongside other works shortlisted at the Photographers’ Gallery in London from 16 April until 26 June 2016 and then later in the year, at the Deutsche Börse headquarters in Frankfurt.

Meanwhile, for more great source material from Erik, order a copy of Failed it!, his visually arresting guide to turning mistakes into ideas and other advice for screwing up successfully.