The Institut Néerlandais in Paris mounted an exhibition of the photographs taken by the Dutch photographer Ilse Frech of young Muslim women in the banlieues of the French capital. The photos have here been brought together as a loose-leaf collection in a cardboard cover.
In the literal sense of the word, this is a portfolio – but is it also a book? Actually it is more of a book than a stapled brochure is. It has a straight spine over a centimetre wide, even if what looks as if it ought to have been the spine title is next to it on the back.
Another book-like element is that the cover encloses not sheets but sections: six of them, each of four four-page sheets of large photographs. Plus one section of brief interviews with the subjects. All slid loosely between and onto each other.
Amongst the shadow panel there was much discussion about the sense and nonsense of this denial of the book form. Sense won. Most images run through the heart of the spread, but they run on not to the facing page but to the other side of the sheet. The effect is to make something very special of these sections, opening up opportunities for viewing and comparing that one doesn’t have with stitched or stapled sections. Cautiously you slide the sheets apart, you lift one or two up, but you take care not to completely break up the order they are packed in. One begins to wonder if they haven’t found a way of forcing the viewer to approach the material more attentively.
What we get to see of the young women is their self-confidence and their self-awareness. This presentation helps in the building process; everything about it is in tune with it. Mise en page, lithography and print on semi-glossy paper are all to an exceptionally high standard without at the same time being over the top. A class balancing act.