Week 6 – Research and Curate

Lecture with Stuart Tolley and Andrew Sanigar

This week we examined ethnographic research and curation; developing and pitching a proposal and the key stages of publishing a book. Ethnographic research involves immersing yourself within a community and studying it from within. It is vitally important that an ethnographer be accepted by the community and participate in cultural life and practices. (Robson 2002, pg 186)

The Enclave , Richard Mosse

Richard Mosse’s photos were instantly compelling, his use of Kodak Aerochrome infared film captures the unseen and draws attention to his message. Without his use of ethnographic research however, there would have been no arresting images, and no story told.

I find the concept to be interesting.  At what point do you stop being an ethnographic researcher and become part of the community? Moving and becoming part of a place is intrinsically different to ethnographic research, as the researcher holds themselves outside of the community even while immersing themselves fully in it. 

Is this exploitative? It certainly can be, so strong ethics is immensely important.  As an immigrant who has moved to a different country it brings up questions as well – at what point has the community in which I live become my community? What claim do I have on the space and history of the world around me?  

(Lupton and Miller 1996, pg 12)

From the lecture this week Stuart interviews Andrew Sanigar, commissioning editor at Thames & Hudson. The discussion ranged from the importance of research and developing concepts, to key stages when publishing a book. Sanigar had fascinating insights into publishing projects and the kinds of books he is looking for. He is looking for books that are inhabiting their own niche, they need to make a case for themselves. (Tolley and Sanigar, 2021)

I work in print design and have helped several people develop books for self publishing. Self publishing is such a different world to what Sanigar was speaking about. They can be complete vanity projects, but often they are important and worthwhile even if they hold no commercial value to a publishing house. I’ve helped develop colouring books, poetry books, guidebooks for local walks, family cookbooks, personal projects, art books, niche local history, preserved treasured family records, or collated groupwork for schools or organisations. Digital printing has opened a new world for people to create something lasting without the commitment of traditional publishing costs.

Book design itself is such a creative industry, there are so many options, such as this classic by Janet and Allan Ahlberg, The Jolly Postman or Other People’s Letters. This children’s book has a bit in common with my post last week, in that it deconstructs fairy tales. The book is a charming artefact made up of interactive elements that reinforce the narrative. Envelopes include the titular “other people’s letters” which can be removed and examined. These letters, postcards, advertisements and even smaller books are all engrossing and draw the reader in to a deeper relationship with the book. Discovering small details and surprises is a wonder and delight.

The Octunnumi arrived on my doorstop as a surprise from my sister. I still have not done any real research into it as I feel that may ruin the reading experience. The book could be written terribly for all I currently know, but receiving a mysterious parcel and unpacking such a beautifully packaged item was an experience in and of itself.

The book arrived in a black slipcase, which housed a letter closed with a metal gear. It was wrapped in thick black matte paper with crisp folds, held closed by a foiled and embossed sleeve and containing a gorgeously produced paperback book as well as a pronunciation guide and dictionary. Embossing, UV spot varnish, foiling, laminating, border printing and edge painting already make this book feel like an experience, but it also has the addition of an interactive AR element as well.

Workshop Challenge

Research and identify two possible stories that reflect a viewpoint of your own town, city or locale.

Create one image to represent both initial story concepts, using a variety of methods, which must be original and not sourced from the Internet or a third party.

Write two short proposals with title, original image and a short 100-word synopsis (elevator pitch) about the concept of your article. Save as a PDF document and upload to your blog.

This week I had two topics spring to mind immediately.  The Mermaid of Zennor and Cornish quoits and standing stones. I started researching and found a wealth of information to support both topics, but found myself drawn particularly to Zennor.  I often visit the village and go for walks along the coastal path and pop into the church to visit the famous Mermaid Chair and get an ice cream or a drink in the pub.  Sadly due to lockdown everything is currently closed, but we had a lovely walk and took photos of the town and surroundings.  

During my research I also found that Zennor has it’s own quoit, not as famous as some of the better preserved standing stones in Cornwall, but worth finding.  

We walked up the heath and eventually found a muddy track that led to the quoit.  Originally a burial site, the roof has collapsed and is leaning at a precarious angle. Another quoit was quite near by, though not as in good of condition, all that remained of it was a few scattered pieces.

Academically, it is difficult not being able to utilise libraries in person at the moment.  However, the online access through Falmouth is very good.  I was able to use my credentials to search JSTOR, and found a wide variety of journals, articles and books about my chosen topics.  I was also able to find some Cornish historians and folklore enthusiasts. 

1. Cornish Folktales and the Mermaid of Zennor:  Folktales are the essence of a place. The story of the Mermaid of Zennor is anchored to my family’s surname and we often visit the mermaid bench in St Senara’s church. Did Matthew Trewhella run off with a beautiful mercreature, or did he have one too many at the Tinner’s Arms and tumble off the cliffs?  Mermaids feature in several other Cornish folktales, and the area is full of intriguing relics and mysterious coves. Mermaids have also been referenced in other Cornish churches, and in the Ordinalia, three medieval mystery plays written in Middle Cornish.  I’d like to explore paper engineering with an interactive outcome for this.

2. Quoits and standing stones: Cornwall is dotted with prehistoric monuments. West Penwith is home to quoits, fugous, standing stones, stone circles, burial chambers, wishing wells, petroglyphs and remnants of villages and homes. Several of them are within eyeshot of one another, as I discovered this weekend.  A preparatory investigation of Zennor quoit revealed  another, Sperris quoit, less than a thousand feet away, with more stretching from coast to coast. Cornish hedges are some of the oldest manmade objects still used for their intended purpose. These are fascinating monuments to Cornwall’s past, what do the stones have to say? What secrets do they keep?