PhD student Liz Tregenza reports from a workshop about using the printed and digital page
The Printed and Digital Page: Reassessing Form, Content and Methodologies was the third in a series of student-led events designed to assist doctoral students in the process of their research. The event, supported by TECHNE and held at Kingston University, brought together staff and students from The University of Brighton, The Royal College of Art, London College of Communications and Kingston University for an illuminating and thoughtful day of presentations. It focused on printed and digital pages, both as subjects and objects of research, with papers considering magazines, zines, newspapers, periodicals and books. The day consisted of discussions on the challenges and opportunities related to these materials. Issues covered included the design, production and consumption of printed and digital pages, the imagery and typography seen on the printed page, the materiality of the printed page and the readership of publications, as well as how the printed page acts as an output of practice-based research.
Two weeks before the event, participants had submitted a 2-3000 word piece of writing from their PhD research. In some cases this was an excerpt from a thesis chapter and in others an account of their experiences of researching or making printed or digital pages. These were shared with participants and respondents ahead of the event. On the day, each participant gave a ten-minute presentation and these were followed by initial responses from the academic convenors. After this, discussion was opened up amongst the group. The papers were divided into four categories. Firstly there was Fashion, aesthetics, the body and the printed page with papers from Liz Tregenza (UoB) and Simon Josebury (KU) (Respondent: Annebella Pollen). Secondly there was Typography and self-publishing with papers from Welmoet Wartena (RCA) and Kollontai Diniz (RCA) ( Respondent: Jeremy Aynsley). Thirdly there was Overlay and visual narrative with a paper from Ilsa Colsell (KU) (Respondent: Sarah Teasley) and finally there was Photography and Designwith papers from Jessie Bond (LCC), Anna Lucas (KU) and Catherine Sidwell (KU) (Respondent: Catharine Rossi).
The presentations were incredibly varied, dealing with topics stretching from the late nineteenth century to the present day. Whilst the focus was on the printed page, a number of the presentations dealt with film as an adjunct to this and the physical act of turning pages. This was seen both in Anna Lucas’s work and Jessie Bond’s; Bond’s rich descriptions of War Porn and Documenting the Iraq War helped those of us in the audience to connect with the texts in a different way. Bond’s descriptions considered more than the images contained within the books. She also described the physical presence of each of the books: the number of pages, the thickness of the book and its overall size. For many of us the joy of the printed page and the physical object was clear. For example, when Simon Josebury presented us with his Sandwich poster-pamphlets we were all eager to look at them, study them, touch them and consider the material qualities of the paper and the images presented on them.
Ilsa Colsell’s presentation looked to the printed page in a very different way. Through her own artistic practice the printed page was re-imagined through folding, overlay and paint. Both Welmoet Wartena and Kollontai Diniz’s papers were heavily concerned with typography. Coming from a background in book design, Wartena’s paper explored relationships between typography, written language and meaning within artists publications. On the other hand, Kollontai Diniz’s work considered the glottal stop and how this is used to illustrate dialect. Whilst my own presentation and Catherine Sidwell’s falling at the beginning and end of the day, dealt with very different subjects commonalties were clear in our methodological approach to the printed page. Sidwell considered C.F.A Voysey’s designs for The Stage (1893), her detailed research into this publication clear throughout. I, on the other hand, discussed print advertising of London wholesale couture and demonstrated my own obsessive efforts in discovering wholesale couturiers advertisements and connecting these to original garments where possible. I questioned the differing presentation of garments in advertisements and editorials and why garments were displayed differently in a wide variety of magazines.
Overall the day was incredibly fruitful, filled with interesting presentations and discussions and demonstrating a real range of approaches towards the printed page. The thing that was very clear during the event was the joy felt about the physical object: the printed zine, or the book. The feel, touch or maybe even – for those of us that dealt with older sources – the smell of the printed page. Whilst topics covered by participants were incredibly diverse commonalities were found amongst work and the event proved to be a great day, not only for considering our own work, but for creating new connections with PhD candidates at other universities.
[This piece first appeared on the University of Brighton’s Centre for Design History blog].