Work / Publication

Erik Kessels on why he’s collected 2000 records featuring large groups of people

Co-founder and creative director of KesselsKramer, Erik Kessels has kept hold of one particular LP, which he picked up from his parents’ hometown in the south of the Netherlands, for years. It’s not the music the record holds that made Erik keep it nostalgically but, actually, its cover he couldn’t help but come back to. Starring a large group of people standing proudly on its sleeve, it’s remained in Erik’s possession because he was simply fascinated by “the aesthetic of a large group of similarly dressed men standing outdoors,” he tells us.

Erik isn’t a collector of records but, over the years, he began excessively buying LPs with a similar setup. A choir dressed in their ruffs positioned just as they would in church but instead in a field somewhere; a sports team who’ve released a single lined up in their kits, or a marching band in matching outfits walking proudly horns in hand. The idea to collate his findings into an exhibition, aptly titled Group Show was settled upon, and the somewhat addictive quality of staring at these photographs was picked up by RVB Books, who’ve now released a publication and accompanying soundtrack to Erik’s collection.

“There’s a certain naive and vernacular quality these photographs have that I very much like,” Erik explains on how his collection began. What intrigued Erik wasn’t the design quality of these records, but the sheer “awkward impossibility” that the photographer hired to take the final shot was set as a brief. The artist and designer enjoyed “the fact that a photographer has to portrait a large group of people” and how it “forces him or her into a particular solution,” Erik continues. “Examples of this are, for instance, a large open field, large stairs in front of a monumental building, a beach or a city square.” Erik also noticed how the photographer was always positioned a little higher than his swarming group of subjects, “and needs to create a lot of attention from the people he documents.”

The thought process of the photographer directing these shots, and their similarity from cover to cover despite the group or genre, allows the records to be even more visually engaging together when presented en masse. Noticing this, Erik had the idea to collect as many as possible for an exhibition before he actually had the records himself, and so began buying excessively. “The more I found them, the better the idea started to work out.” Picking up records in secondhand shops soon he had a collection of 2000, all from various parts of Europe.

In its exhibition context, Group Show, which took place at Saint-Claire church in Vevey, Switzerland in September last year, was also accompanied by a soundtrack taken from the records themselves, and “is equally important as the images,” Erik points out. Creating a soundtrack by layering the tracks of the records on top of one another, the result is “a little bit of a build-up in the score, starting to get pandemonic at the end”. This is only enhanced by the fact it was housed in the reverberating architecture of a church. 30 minutes in length, the soundtrack is the at the centre of the printed iteration of Group Show, makin it more of a record release than a book launch. With a yellow vinyl, Erik’s collection has been designed into an inserted booklet, which was “a lot of fun to produce,” says Erik.

On the subject of why these photographs which show nothing more than a group of people seem to engage such interest, Erik reasons: “I’ve tried to bring this particular kind of images and vinyl in one place together. Suddenly by doing this, you point something out that other people like to see. A few months ago, no one was paying attention to these records, now some people can collectively enjoy these images.”

In turn, Group Show as a project comments on how “at this moment of time we get bombarded with images constantly,” says Erik. “What I do is edit a certain kind of image and let people pause at them,” says Erik. And of course, it’s a celebration of the records themselves, “like-minded beings that have found each other in their shared musical passion.”