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David Wiesner
Sep 2006
With artists such as Anthony Browne, Dave McKean and Joel Stewart as its main proponents in the United Kingdom, surrealism is an under-represented style within the picture book form. A peculiar occurrence given the creative thought and imaginative freedom that surrealism�s �seeded� style nurtures and develops�

An undoubted bastion of the form in America is the innovative and accomplished David Wiesner. His latest picture book, �Flotsam� sadly like so many of his picture books unpublished here in the United Kingdom, is a tour-de-force.

Told wholly through the visual narrative of illustration, the book opens with a full page close up of a hermit crab and an eye caught in the act of observation � a meta-narrative against the reader�s own active engagement with this scene.

A double page spread then zooms out to show the boy examining the hermit crab through a magnifying glass. A backdrop of play and of observation provides shifting scales and perspectives as we witness sandcastles, parents reading, a microscope and a pair of binoculars. A storyboard of framed images sequentially narrates the boy as he spots another crab, sets off to collect it, chases it and � finally � is caught off guard by a rogue wave.

Narrative flits to another double page spread showing the waves as they ebb away, leaving the boy saturated looking at the evasive crab and also at an ancient underwater camera that has been washed ashore.

The boy removes the film from the camera and his fervent keenness to have this developed is brilliantly captured by Wiesner through a series of framed images inlaid upon the climactic image of this double page spread depicting the boy�s eye in close-up looking at one of the developed photographs � an image from which we are excluded at this point building a real sense of dramatic tension and intrigue as the reader turns the page.

The photographs provide a snapshot into a rich and varied underwater world, inhabited by clockwork aquatics, schools of fish presided over by wise, old, octopi, puffer fish hot air balloons, turtle tenements, starfish spread eagled and submerge but emerging as islands and atolls. The final photograph depicts a girl holding a photograph of a boy, holding a photograph of an image caught in ocular recursion. Puzzling over this, the boy puzzles over this and scrutinises the photograph more closely using his magnifying glass showing a girl holding a photograph of a boy. Time spans and geographical space are transcended through the representation of these photographic images The boy�s microscope offers even greater opportunity for examination first at ten times magnification, then at twenty-five and through until seventy times magnification when we see a boy on a beach dressed in Victorian attire and shown in sepia tones.

The boy sets up his own photograph using the camera to take a picture of him holding the picture. He then casts the camera back into the ocean whereupon it becomes caught up in the marvels of the marine before finally being washed up upon the shores of a palm lined beach and picked up by a girl...

A magnificent expose of the art of observation and representation, Wiesner has created a masterpiece of reflection and imagination.

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This page contains a single entry by Jacob published on January 7, 2007 4:18 PM.

(Not So) Scary Monsters: The Marvellous Monster Muddle was the previous entry in this blog.

The Story of Everything is the next entry in this blog.

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