Photo curator Erik Kessels on why creative people should spend more time in the back garden
When we caught up with Erik Kessels at Photo London recently he shared with us an amusing analogy about front and back gardens and how they correlated with his vision of the creative process.
Kessels, as you know, is the celebrated photography curator who’s just published Failed It! – a compendium of ludicrous visual mistakes and creative misfires. He’s also the guy this happened to when we took his picture before his Photo London talk.
Kessels thinks that because so many of the apps and programmes we use daily are geared to eliminating any kind of mistake – and are pretty much close to perfect in doing so – it’s becoming harder and harder to come across those happy errors that great ideas were once ushered in on. "We need an application to f*** up the images that we made perfectly on the phone!" he said.
As he told us in the Martin Parr Real Food caravan, at Photo London: “Good ideas are sometimes disruptive or confusing or a bit wrong and that’s how new ideas come to life. Failed It! is not about learning from your mistakes, it’s more about how you should go towards a mistake.”
Kessels went on: “A lot of yourng photographers or artists starting out are so 'injected' with all kinds of information, and they can see how perfectly people make things, that they only stay in their 'front garden' - the place where they exhibit things. But you have to spend time in the 'back garden', which is fenced in and where you can experiment, make mistakes and walk around half-naked. Then, when you at last have the start of a good idea you can bring it through your house and put it in the front garden.”
When curating his shows Kessels said he always tried to begin with a very specific idea but one that was way out of his comfort zone. “I did an exhibition called Small Universe where I looked for artists who settled on a small topic of their life, a small space metaphorically. I liked the idea but initially I didn’t know what to do with it or how to find it. But you need to find a subject that makes yourself a little bit uncomfortable or restless. I am not by trade a curator but those who are need to be daring. That doesn’t happen often. Nowadays the word curator is overly used, it’s almost become somebody who just points out something."
He highlighted the importance of a new breed of photographers in inspiring students of the medium. For Kessels, photographers such as: Mishker Henner, Thomas Mailaender, Corinne Vionnet, Lucas Blalock, the British street photographer Matt Stuart, the Dutch street photographer Andrew Tyson and Kent Rogowski are artists “stretching the discipline of photography, pushing the borders of the discipline and making works that are unforgettable."
"They have a deep passion and you almost feel that the work they make and the way they do it is in frustration at photography," he added. "They find their own way by disrupting it and making it look different and destroying it a bit.”
"Young people need those examples because when you got to photography schools around the world they’re so traditional because the teachers are traditional. When you go to art or photography school it should be three years of disruption and embarrassment and trying to light a fire underneath something. Because that way you can find out what your own identity is and what your own work is."