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A Closer Look: The Cliffs

The Cliffs by Bertrand Fleuret.
Published by J&L Books.

The Cliffs by Bertrand Fleuret published by J&L books starts on the cover. The clear plastic dust jacket wraps around the plain grey boards both protecting the book and creating a veil through which we read the five or so paragraphs of text that call out to be read before the book is even opened. It's not exactly a thesis, but more or less serves as one, narrating the dream of Fleuret's that inspired the book.
So The Cliffs is a book about a dream, which is simultaneously a fascinating and infuriating subject. As vivid as dream memories can be, they often slip away when the memory tires to seize them and the attempt to communicate the imagery, narrative or feeling of a dream can be endlessly frustrating. The effervescent nature of those memories seem to exist in a language that is akin to our spoken words, but is ultimately something else altogether. We grope to explain to the listener the miraculous and intangible nature of that dream, while the listener in turn gropes to understand, find a common ground and a way to complete the visualization of what is being described with their own internal visual language. There's a reason why some people never talk about their dreams -- the process can be so frustrating that it is ultimately very boring to the listener. But this book isn't so much about the actual dream as it is an experiment in how to communicate it.

The Cliffs by Bertrand Fleuret. Published by J&L Books.
The Cliffs by Bertrand Fleuret. Published by J&L Books.

By introducing the narrative on the cover, the reader has already been made familiar with the story. Now resting in memory, the black pages of the small book begin to walk the reader through an illustrated version of the story. The images themselves are attributed in the back of the book -- a good many of them were rephotographed from National Geographic, causing a fuzziness that works well with the intended descriptive qualities of the narrative. Though all the images appear small and snap-shot-like, there is a strong filmic quality, but it is not cinematic -- filmic like La Jetee in its still images and blackness, lulling and narrative but also static. Small segments of white text appear like poetry on the black pages walking the reader through the dream and serving as subtitles to the photographs. The images within the book seem to modify each other as they go along -- none of them are assumed to be literal visualizations of the dream, but rather approximations, something close to what Fleuret saw, and thus as they pass, the conceptual image is augmented by the variations in the following photographs.

The Cliffs by Fleuret Bertrand. Published by J&L Books.
The Cliffs by Bertrand Fleuret. Published by J&L Books.

In the end, has the reader achieved a closer or more accurate understanding of Fleuret's dream? It's impossible to say, but this mode of communication at least makes the dream more visceral for me. We experience it three times -- once on the cover, again with the small descriptive texts illustrated with the images and we are then acquainted once again through reproductions of Fleuret's journal. By the time I reached his drawings they were more evocative for me than the photographs and closer to my mental image. I felt like I knew the dream. The Cliffs is among the best examples of how text and image can merge to communicate beyond the powers of each individually. -- Sarah Bradley

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