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#29 Social Media

Speaking: Willem Popelier

Willem Popelier in his exhibition 'Ephemeral Photographs'. photo Hetty de Groot

‘Social Abstinence’, a new concept that suddenly pops up as the corona virus spreads around the world. “If people have to stay at home, they will still contact each other through social media,” Willem Popelier uttered during a lecture on Wednesday evening March 11 for a small group of people in Pennings Foundation. Nobody could have foreseen that developments would go so fast. Two days later, Pennings Foundation, like many other cultural institutions, is forced to close the building to visitors. This means that the exhibition of Willem Popelier, Ephemeral Photographs has been put on hold.

Ephemeral Photographs is a remarkable project about aesthetic images, images of nature, made quickly on the way, just like everyone takes a photo with their mobile phone. Every day only one aesthetic photo is on show, both in the exhibition space and on social media. The exhibition space is filled with color planes. These correspond to the aesthetic photos, because each shows the average color of the original image. Every day at a different place in the exhibition a different color area is exchanged for the real image. The photos have the same proportions as the screen of a mobile phone.

The colour plane left shows the average colour of the esthetic picture on the right. photo Willem Popelier

Each photo contains a bar at the top and cross that refers to the image on Facebook and Instagram Stories. As long as the bar fills up from left to right (this takes a few seconds), the image can be seen. Then the image disappears and after 24 hours it disappears from social media completely. The colored planes hang loose in the room. "By walking between the color planes people will experience the physical scrolling of images on their mobile." Popelier often uses existing images, but for these aesthetic photos he made a selection from photos that he has taken over the past six years.

The colour planes hang loose in the exhibition space. photo Hetty de Groot

After 15 exhibition days and the same number of photos displays, the exhibition has been paused. It was briefly considered to continue the photo display online. And to film the finissage, where the aesthetic images would be shown one by one, and put the video online. But in the end it was decided to continue the exhibition as soon as normal life can be resumed.

Willem Popelier (Eindhoven, 1982) is a visual artist who uses photography as a medium. He mainly focuses on popular visual culture, the ubiquitous image and its effects on society. He studied at KABK in The Hague and AKV | St. Joost in Breda, lives in Utrecht and teaches at the Willem de Kooning Academy in Rotterdam.

The Do-It-Yourselfie Guide. photos Hetty de Groot

A selection of his projects:

Visual Proof of My Existance. In 2010 he traveled to Florida, without a camera, and collected photos (where he stood) from surveillance cameras, automatically taken photos at attractions and photos taken by tourists. In 2015 he published the book The Do-It-Yourselfie Guide, for which he photographed himself in 66 different selfie poses. Besides being a visual artist, he also appears to be a good actor!


"Social media gives an idea of ​​how we see the world," he told during his lecture about the history of photography to the volatile medium it is today. "What do we do with photography, what do we show, how do we use photography and how do we interact?"

With the introduction of the carte-de-visite (the portrait in a business card format) in the mid-19th century, sharing images became possible for everyone. Making and printing passport photos in a passport photo booth (from 1925) became a hype. Popelier showed among other things, the first photo of the moon, the first photo of the sun and the first photo of the earth. Now the globe is represented by a compilation of satellite images. “Making and sharing images is as old as photography itself. Nothing has changed, only the technology has changed.” Since the handy Brownie camera (around 1900) taking pictures came within reach for many people. "Nowadays everyone can easily take pictures with a mobile phone."

Presentation of Showroom Girls and The Do-It-Yourselfie Guide at Pennings Foundation in 2019

Willem Popelier wrote this text for the exhibition:

“Ephemeral Photographs explores photography as a volatile medium. The series questions the value we assign to photos that we share online every day.”

“When photography was invented nearly 200 years ago, expensive materials, craftsmanship and many hours were needed to create a single photo. Almost 200 years later, almost everyone has a professional camera in their pocket in the form of a mobile phone. Taking photos and publishing them online to a global audience is now done in a split second.”

“Photos are used as a volatile medium: as a note, as a reminder. Where previously precious moments and places were immortalized, a cup of coffee, a train compartment or a changing room is now being recorded. Everything can be shared on social media, to be removed after 24 hours and disappear forever. How consciously are people still looking at and enjoying images that are shared with the world?”

Lecture by Willem Popelier. photo Conny van Leeuwen

“Ephemeral Photographs consists of 21 large images that hang loose in space. Each image will be fully visible in the exhibition for only one day and online through channels such as Instagram Stories. After 24 hours, the image is reduced to the average color and the next image is visible for 24 hours.”

“How each image is constructed and which formal compositional choices have been made strongly refers to the generally applicable aesthetic values. Images that are liked a lot on social media often also (unconsciously) comply with this. For example, the images of Ephemeral Photographs were also made quickly during ephemeral moments: quickly out of the window, on the way or returning from the store. The use of so-called filters predominates on social media, which makes an image more beautiful in color and contrast. The images in this series though, are minimally edited.”

“Popelier was also inspired by artists who have challenged us to look at the world around us in the past 200 years. The series contains influences from Romanticism and Impressionism, among others, but also emphatically from the work of David Hockney and Jackson Pollock.”

The exhibition will be continued as soon as the situation allows.

Presentation of 'Paris Error' (right) at PREVIEW in 2018. photo Fieke van Berkom

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