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about this project

99 portraits is a visual response to Raymond Queneau’s Exercises in Style, a book in which the author retells the same short story in 99 different ways. I read the book, but what exactly had I read? For with each variation, the notion of a single story faded ever more into the background. The real story existed in the variations as a whole. And I wondered if I could do something similar in pictorial form. Thus began my series of “exercises”, based on a portrait of the author. Exercises in style that became exercises in seeing.

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Online
For the time being, all 99 portraits can be viewed on this site. I may at some point present them in book form as well — I’ve already produced a sample-sized version of this with a handful of images. Updates also appear on the Instagram page @exercisesinstyle.

Oulipo
Name of a group co-founded by Queneau in 1960. Oulipo, short for Ouvroir de littérature potentielle, translates as a “workshop of potential literature”. The Oulipians imposed constraints on themselves and their writing in order to explore the possibilities of literature.

Original portrait
Photo of Queneau shot by Man Ray in 1925, and which I stumbled upon online in a catalogue for an auction.

about the maker

I am forever amazed at the reflexive manner in which we read, see and interpret the world around us. By the way we understand one another, or think we do, without conscious thought. More specifically, by the role that our visual and written language play in this. This fascination fuels everything I do as an illustrator, writer and communications consultant, whether for commissioned assignments or for personal and experimental projects. I once thought that I had to choose between doing something with words or with images. But why should I? Seeing and reading are, at least for me, inseparable.

I work from studio vander, my practice and laboratory for text and images.

Femke van der Wijk