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Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Stranger: A Dreamboat of a Book

If you're wondering how to make your pictures come alive, then look to Olivia Arthur and her new book Stranger.

It looks like a normal book with a normal cover. It's a what-if story - what if a man had survived a shipwreck off the coast of Dubai that happened 50 years ago and returned to the place 50 years later. How would they feel, how would they see, what would they do? Especially if they were a poor man, an Indian man, a man without status.

You open up Stranger and everything goes a little bit dreamy. It's hard to show on a screen because it is such a tactile book, a book printed on tracing paper in which one image melts into the one below till you become immersed in something that isn't so much a book as a kind of tracing paper shadow-play or lantern show. It's a dreamboat of a book, something that gets a life beyond the page. And if you're the kind of person who goes 'fiddlesticks to that, it's the pictures that matters, you just take a piece of white card (it even comes with the book. I didn't know what to do with it until I was told) and then you see the picture in its full glory.

You can't see the effect on the screen and you don't see it in the opened object. But once you get a short flow going it is like a film as you uncover one page after another and look for the story, and you feel the place flood into you.

The text is simple and direct. It builds the sense of Dubai as a city of the imagination. So there is a huge sense of place in there; to the extent that there is a large landscape element to it. There is also that combination of documentary and fiction (and a nod to Cristina de Middel at the start of the book) that is taking photography into new and exciting places. The tracing people lift and reveal has been used before, but I don't know if anybody has done it so beautifully. It extends the story-telling form and is something that feels lovely to the touch and the emotion created by the paper completely fits the circular narrative of the book. It's fantastic.

Buy the book here. 

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