…And Willem: Documentation of a Youth

I really just want to jot down some ideas about this book I just got.  It’s really unique.

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It’s a book by Dutch artist Willem Popelier, and serves as a document of his life with his twin brother (who remains nameless and faceless), and the broken family they share.  The book is incredibly innovative.

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The book is divided into 7 chapters.  The first is all text, and outlines the different players and histories involved in the life of the twins.

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The second chapter is Persons, and it is photographs of each of the players in these lives documented.  However, not all is clear.  Each of the characters is represented by a letter, rather than name.  If two or more of the characters have a name with the same first letter, there is a number added.  And then each of them is photographed with a simple head shot.

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And yet still, not all is that simple.  The history and family documented in the book is quite broken, and there are particular participants whom refused to be seen in the photographs (those have a block placed over their faces in the photographs), and others that refused to be photographed all together (these pages are left blank, though still the initial and role of the character is acknowledged in the text).

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The third chapter is Chronology.  Here, the same head shots are used, but the pages are designed to show the trajectory of the different relationships involved in the lives shared by the twins.  These pages read like maps, detailing love, break-ups, and residencies.

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The next chapter is Places of Residence, and this chapter is all photographs of keys.  The keys detail the residences of that Willem and twin occupied during the time narrated in the book.

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The next chapter is Correspondence.  Much is revealed here.  In the history of the twins, they are separated early on and live their lives apart for much of their youth.  It comes to light here that there might have been a violent tragedy in their home, that led to not only Willem being separated from his twin, but also the break-up of their parents.  Just like the photographs of the family members, there are particular omissions, sometimes in entirety, sometimes in part.  Regardless, the omissions are presented in the text, and that which is withheld is still offered as document.

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The next chapter is Objects, and simply documents the things that are part of early family life – hospital bracelets, birth certificates, the first pair of pajamas.

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The last chapter, Photographs, is really the most moving.  Here, Willem offers snapshots of his early childhood, when he still lived with his twin and his family was entact.

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The narrative of the book is remarkable, and is a totally unique approach to visual storytelling.

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Totally recommended.

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