What if You Printed Every Photo on the Internet?

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It can be a fun to imagine what the physical reality of really, really big numbers would look like. We did it with our 2017 forecast of digital photos. We did it here, too. This site does a really good job of it – real time, and on your screen.

Dutch polymath Erik Kessels just went ahead and did it, for real.

In 2011, as part of the What’s Next exhibition at Foam Gallery in Amsterdam, Kessels downloaded every image posted to Flickr over a 24-hour period – nearly a million photos — printed them all, then ‘installed’ them for the public.

Kessels downloaded every image posted to Flickr over a 24-hour period – nearly a million photos -- printed them all

The exhibition 24 hrs in Photos continues to be shown all over the world, with visitors encouraged to wade through the mounds of pictures, pick them up, toss them around, the experience emphasizing how the images we post daily are at once voluminous, public, and disposable.

The experience is awe-inducing, unsettling, and at the same time it reveals something that we instinctively understand — there are abundant images online, most of them don’t matter, they are lost in the geological strata of Internet time.

— Rebecca Najdowski, KQED Arts

(As a counterpoint to these photo dunes, one arts writer pointed out that Kessel’s original installation opened only days before the most expensive photograph ever was sold at auction for 4.3 million dollars).

This is the crossroads at which we find ourselves with photos today – we simultaneously consider them incredibly precious, and entirely trivial.

Now we see more images before lunch than somebody in the 19th century would see in their whole life. It’s a different way of consuming images. But now that you see, for instance, that people have almost become editors. Everyday people, they have to become editors in what they would like to see and what they would not like to see, because it is such a bombardment of imagery coming at them. That’s an interesting thing — what kind of choices people make.

— Erik Kessels

Which raises an interesting question: what choices do you make? Which photos are important to you (we know which photos are important to us!) – and why? Chime in with comments below.

Here’s more from Erik Kessels, in his owns words, about the democratization of curation and creativity, and his process in creating 24 hrs in Photos, and other projects: