Pet Book #5: Images

My Pet Book, The Water Babies, features two main types of imagery within the text: large circular relief illustrations depicting a scene from the novel, and similar wood-cut historiated capitals that mark the first letter at the beginning of each new chapter. These images were actually part of what originally drew me to the text because I enjoyed how ornate, yet how black-and-white they were, and I had hoped to learn more about an artist or illustrator during my time researching the text. Whoever was behind these images, however, is still a mystery to me because they are not mentioned anywhere within the text in the way the publisher and typographer were. This air of mystery surrounding the creator of the images is an idea I find to be really compelling, mostly because in modern printing using an image without crediting the artist would be considered stealing it. However, without an illustrator or carvers name attached to the images printed within the text, we are left to wonder about who it was that created the original images, and were they the same person responsible for creating the wood-cut itself that would later be used by the printer?

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            While I have touched on the topic of historiated capitals within my Pet Book, reading Fleming’s piece about printer’s flowers has given me a new perspective through which to look at them, especially in light of the class discussion on Monday afternoon. When discussing the aesthetic purposes of the printer’s flowers, Fleming writes, “one could say that the appearance of printer’s lace turns the printed page into an aesthetic space that encourages projective – that is, subjective and imaginative – behavior…” (171). In framing Kingsley’s historiated capitals with this idea, we can thus look at the images as a way for us to read and make inferences about the chapter we have just begun. By looking at just the first letter, and the ornate image design that holds it, readers are given a space in which to look at the image and to connect it back to the story as a way of making inferences about what will happen next before they have even started to read this new section of the work. If we took each historiated capital out of the book and lined them up in order, would we still be able to understand the story that Kingsley had crafted within the text on the pages? Or, would our imaginations take the images and look at them in a different way, creating an entirely new way to look at the text and the capitals that were made specifically for each chapter? (Note: some chapter numbers were cut off in the process, but they are arranged in order from Chapters 1-8). Thought I’m not sure entirely what inferences I would make based on the images alone, it is worth pointing out how similar each one is to its predecessor, almost as if it was intentional for 1/2, 3/4, 5/6, 7/8 to all look extremely similar in design to each other.

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Unfortunately, because of the early hours of the Northeastern Special Collections, I have only been able to visit my Pet Book in person a handful of times, and thus rely heavily on the collection of photos that I have taken over my past few visits when I want to refer to something in the text (though the digitized version I uncovered as a result of last week’s Pet Book posting has also proved to be helpful). So though my book is indeed a physical object that lives in the basement of Northeastern University’s Library, it has also become a series of images that live on my iPhoto app on my computer. This week’s assignment has caused me to look at these images, which I have been routinely pouring over week after week in light of new ideas, and to think about the images as both pictures of the book and as the book itself. Much in the way that digitized books are just scanned pages of the book, these photos of the book function as just that – photos that allow me to go back and look more closely at a physical item I have already encountered in person. But how does looking at my Pet Book as a series of photographs on my computer screen change my relationship to it and my reading of the text? It does, in a way, change that relationship because while I am looking at a book, I am also looking at a picture of that book. By thinking of the series of photographs I took as an extension of my book, it offers me a new way to look at and think about my Pet Book in terms of how zooming in, screen brightness, and other technological factors play a role in my experience of the text.

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