A pictorial treasury of ‘photographic all-sorts from everywhere’: that is Life is Strange, a co-production between Huis Marseille and nai010 publishers. For this extraordinary book, curator Rob Moorees delved into the National Archives of the Netherlands’ Spaarnestad collection, more particularly the part dealing with the magazine Het Leven. There he found often anonymous photos that offer a cross section of the twentieth century, albeit one with the emphasis on dramatic accidents, strange events, remarkable inventions and other examples of the weird and wonderful.
The panel almost immediately fell for the unique pictorial narrative that Moorees and designer Sybren Kuiper have composed. Concealed in this unadulterated photographic torrent there is skilful and imaginative rhythm. ‘It’s as if you’re wandering through a museum with no explanatory texts,’ one panel member was heard to observe lucidly. The reason for this is that by dint of leaving the tail of the book uncut the makers have ensured that we have to make some effort to discover the caption to each photograph. The effect is that we are virtually forced to leaf through it slowly and carefully. ‘You just keep looking,’ one panel member commented; others added that you have to let go of what you know, and simply let the images wash over you.
In short, this is a classic example of an intelligently made ‘curated’ photobook. Its tactility and composition are absolutely right. Even the asymmetrically folded dust jacket is a plus, and a calm and unobtrusive place has been found for the texts by Maarten Asscher and Saskia Asser. And if we do need something to grumble about: the only distracting element is the choice of paper, which is slightly too white so that occasionally the photos look too red.