Photos that changed the world – 24 Hrs In Photos
Find out how Erik Kessels printed off a single day of Flickr uploads to demonstrate the ubiquity of digital images
For the past 150 years amateur photography and fine-art photography followed two very different paths. Up until the 1970s, black-and-white images were favoured in gallery circles, despite amateurs having opted for colour prints long ago. More recently, galleries and photo dealers have tended to favour gelatin silver prints, a 19th century reproductive process, while most of us are happy to snap, share and enjoy photos digitally.
However, one recent photographic event, and accompanying set of photos, staged by the Dutch creative director and curator Erik Kessels, sought to broke down this divide between photography as high art and its use as a mass medium.
“In November 2011, Kessels filled an Amsterdam gallery with prints of images uploaded to Flickr over twenty-four hours,” explains Mark Durden in our book Photography Today. “It was an exhibition of 350,000 pictures that opened only days before a picture by Andreas Gursky, Rhein II, became the most expensive photograph ever sold at auction, when it went for $4.3m (£2.7m)."
Unlike the Gursky work, which pushed fine photography to a new market high, Kessels' work brought “into the gallery the problem and issues of mass photography,” Durden explains, “a photography that normally circulates virtually, from screen to screen. Printing these pictures stabilizes and fixes them.”
While no single image was as exquisite, as, say, a fine Stephen Shore print, the installation certainly forced gallery goers to reassess the way they approached the medium.
“There is something about stalling the flicker and speed of our relationship to internet images in this installation. Piling the prints up in the gallery, Kessels presents us with a sea of images intended, as the artist says, to ‘visualize the feeling of drowning in representations of other peoples’ experiences’.” Durden explains. “It is an extreme gesture made as part of a show about the future of photography. The work does not give us any answers, but succinctly and effectively presents us with a particular contemporary photographic reality, a reality that the photographic artists of today and tomorrow will all have to begin to make their way through, one way or another.”
Photo purists might dismiss Kessels mass print-out as little more than a stunt. Yet, if anything, 24 Hrs in Photos underestimates the sheer weight of today’s visual output. In 2016, Instagram estimates it receives 80,000,000 image uploads each day. So Kessels 2011 photo torrent, though it changed the way gallery goers perceive the medium, is merely a trickle, from an ocean of digital snapshots.
For greater insight into this project’s place within art and photography, order a copy of Photography Today, here. Meanwhile, for greater insight into Erik Kessels’ life, work and philosophy order his book, Failed It! here.