The start of any research project might begin like a fishing trip; you’ve got your rod and bait in one hand and dreams of catching the big one in the other. Here, Deja Valrie draws upon a fishing metaphor to explain how she persisted with her research for The Arabella Chapman Project, even when nothing was biting.
Have you ever been fishing before? It only goes one of two ways: you get lucky and bring home dinner or the fish just aren’t biting. Fishing through the Arabella Chapman photo albums trying to catch even a glimpse of who she really was felt like that moment on the boat: you cast your line and hope you feel a tug on your rod. But early on, we encountered dead ends. It was time to relocate and switch bait.
I was hunting for details about the photographers whose work is collected in the Chapman albums. My first choice of bait was a basic search engine which wasn’t too tasty because I caught nothing. I then moved to scholarly articles where things started to get more interesting, but I wasn’t really finding any concrete information. I thought I’d hit the end of the road.
This is the moment when, in fishing terms, you think “I should pack up and come back another day.” But I had one more idea, a trip to the library. Researching the photographers in Arabella’s albums seemed impossible with so many names and locations. But these turned out to be rich clues. Mixing them with newspapers, city directories, and local histories, I found information that would benefit our project as a whole. When you know the type of fish you’re hoping to catch, with the right equipment, right location, and right focus you are destined to eat.
As we expand our understanding of the life and history of Arabella Chapman we feed ourselves and others who share this amazing journey with us.
— Deja Valrie