'A city...': the creative process

The creative process behind Freya Purcell's research project. She investigates how women street sellers shaped urban space in 18th and 19th century Edinburgh.

Purcell's work at the Edinburgh City Archives
Purcell's work at the Edinburgh City Archives (Photo by F. Purcell)

Freya writes:

Archive trips

As part of my research process, archives featured heavily, whether this was the National Records of Scotland or Edinburgh City Archives. As time in these archives was limited, visits required planning ahead of time, searching through digital catalogues to identify what items I would see (the amount you could see was limited). Archivists were a great help in helping identify potential threads.

The time on the day in each archive was spent photographing as much as possible. It would be impossible to read everything on the day so I made sure to photograph it all to explore later at home. It was important to make sure a) nothing was blurry and b) I always caught the record details. Nothing worse than coming home to find you didn’t get a key page or couldn’t remember what document it was from.

Staying focused for this long can be exhausting so I admit I always tried to find a new cafe to treat myself at after. I found some great places.


Baskets at the Scottish Fisheries Museum
Baskets at the Scottish Fisheries Museum (Photo by F. Purcell)

Walking and photographing 

As part of my practice I tried to walk in the city of Edinburgh as much as possible, to get a sense of how it changed throughout the seasons and times of day. Crowds swelled and diminished through the year, while a street in summer had a completely different feel when caught in an April gale. Also it allowed me to get a sense of my route and how I could tackle it to make it more accessible.


Museum visits

One of my favourite bits of research was visiting museums. I found this key for getting inspiration, both through being exposed to new objects and also seeing how others had interpreted them before me. Over my residency I was lucky enough to visit some fantastic museums such as the Museum of Rural Life outside Glasgow, the Scottish Fisheries Museum Trust in Anstruther and the National Museum of Scotland.

Purcell's sketching of thoughts and ideas
Purcell's sketching of thoughts and ideas (Photo by F. Purcell)

In addition to visiting museums, I got to arrange some fantastic visits to museum stores, to see some parts of their collections they sadly do not display. These were brilliant and I hope to do some more with these results. To protect these collections there are often tight, but understandable rules. Pencils and notebooks were allowed, though not ink and anything that might damage the collection. And while I was able to take a wealth of photos these are not allowed to be shared. Except for the Fisheries Museum, where I could explore some of the fantastic dolls they had in their collection. This was an interesting representation as to how these women are remembered. Thus, sketching was a big part of my process, reflecting on ideas and experiences. 


Work at home

Doing this project remotely meant a great deal of my research was done at home on a desk that usually looked like a bomb-site and looks much more picturesque here. Having photographed the reams of documents, it was now time to go through them. A process that resulted in long often boring looking spreadsheets, that nonetheless provided some gems of information. When balancing so many sources you never want to find you have forgotten or mislaid a key piece of information.

Freya and her videographer, Toni, on a break from filming
Freya and her videographer, Toni, on a break from filming (Photo by F. Purcell)

In addition to the physical archives I explored as many digital archives as possible, particularly exploring the image archives of Edinburgh City Libraries and the National Gallery of Scotland which contained a wealth of knowledge.

Alongside this, I read and tried to develop a better understanding of the people and city I was exploring.



Creating the video would not have been possible without my friend and videographer Toni, pictured here with me after a long morning shooting b-roll and pieces to camera. We were up early to try to beat the summer crowds and so catching up with a well deserved late lunch.

After spending a couple of days capturing footage it was time to go home and translate the materials into a semblance of order through the video editing software Movavi.