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A Closer Look - Sketches

Sketches by Viviane Sassen
Sketches, Polaroids of Africa (2002-2010) by Viviane Sassen is a special little book. A collection of Polaroids from Sassen’s many years and projects in Africa, the images are a wonderful insight into her process and vision. These Polaroids were taken as test shots, used to feel out the image before taking a final photograph, and are, as the title implies, sketches. The relationship between the images in this book and Sassen’s publication Flamboya are clear, and even includes a few test shots for images that made it into the book.

The photographs in Sketches are not completed works, and the book makes no effort to present them as such. Shown in stacks, the edges of the photographs underneath peaking out, the presentation of the images gives the feel of the photographer handing a heap of photographs to the viewer, making for both a laid back and intimate viewing experience. Catching glimpses of other photographs beneath the main image on the page can give a pang of anxiousness that something is being missed, but keen eyes will notice that the book walks through the piles -- the image on the next page being the image directly underneath. The photographs are mostly portraits, and extension of Sassen’s creative and unexpected way of portraying her subjects. While all are intriguing, the images are rougher than Sassen’s other published work. Some are out of focus – others don’t seem to be exposed quite right – some display the quirkiness of Polaroid film – but these elements add to this collection. They are sketches, raw and unrefined, captured with a unique energy.

From the book Sketches
From the book Sketches
The images in Sketches are wonderful, but it’s the book’s design, by Sybren Kuiper, that makes it really something -- a perfect example of how great design can elevate a body of work, presenting it just how it should be. The book fits nicely in the hand and does an excellent job of capturing the feel of flipping through a stack of Polaroids, the images reproduced at their physical size. The lines created by overlapping Polaroids become a consistent design element throughout the book, the abstracted shapes of the Polaroid stacks making the cover image, their backs pictured on the first page. The images presented as nothing more than what they are, but done in this manner the collection feels even more like a treasure – a bundle of images not meant for reproduction but presented here to a special viewer. -- Sarah Bradley

Purchase a copy of the book here.