Boswell in Space was the final project to be funded by Central Station’s Member Fund. It’s an experiment in documentary-making using a variety of old and new forms of communication, including illustration, photography, video and blogging. It is also an exploration of narrative, character and performance in the virtual world. Mitch Miller and Emma Lennox, the pair behind the project, sit down with the man himself (albeit in a spiritual incarnation) to reveal the thinking behind their interactive documentary adventure.


Boswell’s Ghost: I note that in your advertisements as to your undertaking, that you refer to my past incarnation, Mr Boswell, as the ‘first documentarian’. I must ask you to tell me more about this as I am unfamiliar with the term.

Emma: Well, your methods of documentation are very similar to today. You write very thoroughly about the human experience and you are particularly good at describing people’s character. I’d like to think that if you were still alive today, you’d have a film crew tagging along after you while you tweeted from your iphone.

Boswell’s Ghost: Madam, I am not a bird!

Emma: …not that kind of tweeting. Anyway, trust me I think you would find all these new ways of communication fascinating.

Mitch: Pretty much what Emma says. You obviously precede the invention of film, but all of the techniques we see documentary filmmakers using – recording the detail of what they see, interviewing, subtly changing their behaviour or approach as necessary, eavesdropping on conversation, fashioning characters out of real people – even creating situations and set pieces to see what happens – are all techniques you actually pioneered, just in print, not celluloid. I read this book about Direct Cinema once that outlined ‘crisis’ theory – that it is when you put real people in difficult situations that they reveal their character, and forget they’re being observed. I’ve noted that you did this all the time – you took Dr. Johnson into the Highlands where he was in every way out of his comfort zone, or introduced him to people he was politically or morally opposed to – just to watch what happened. And, like Nick Broomfield, you are always in the story yourself, often posing as an idiot (which if you don’t mind me saying was, in many ways, not a huge stretch for you…

Boswell’s Ghost: Not a huge stretch!?

Mitch: …BUT, to be sure, you are a clever, clever guy. You use your talents in acting to make people underestimate you, make them drop their guard. Above all, as Emma points out, you were indeed scrupulous in collecting details and tracking down facts and quotations – if only more journalists were like you!
Boswell’s Ghost: Sir, I find many of them fail in absolutely every regard!

Mitch: Exactly. You were interested in absolutely everything, and wrote it all down, which gives your books enormous documentary value, but also value as imaginative works of art. In fact, I think anyone interested in working in a documentary form should read your introduction to The Life of Johnson  (a great book by the way) which lays out how you worked – those methods still hold good today, and we wanted to explore that in Boswell in Space.

Boswell’s Ghost: It satisfied me that so much more of my work is known now – and increasingly valued, I hear. But pray, how did you come up with ‘Boswell in Space’?

Emma: Mitch came up with the idea. I just thought it would be great to tag along in a 21st Century style.
Boswell’s Ghost: Indeed. So much more is revealed by watching carefully from the back of the room.

Mitch: What she said…I’d noticed how ‘psycho-geographically’ you write about some places – like Child’s Coffee House, the description of Mrs Rudd’s dining room, or your home at Auchinleck – and wanted to explore that through trying to draw them. Spaces aren’t just a backdrop – they help create the ‘characters’ and are, in a sense, characters themselves. Emma then observed how you would be to a bloggers world, we started to spark off each other…

Emma: And then it all went out of control…

Mitch: That’s one way of looking at it.

Boswell’s Ghost: So your endeavours began in mid November, which I note is the anniversary of my past self’s great adventure to London in 1762. Many of us have, to be sure, been fascinated by the first of your episodes, but what stage are you at now?

Emma: We had a delayed start to the project, so we’re still playing catch up; filming actors’ readings, editing, writing and drawing. Everything has taken longer than expected so I have a load of material to edit, and Mitch is looking very ink stained. Fortunately our web designer, Ewan Sinclair, has been very patient with us!

Mitch: It’s been a struggle at times, no question – we’re trying a lot of stuff we’ve never tried before, and inevitably, that means there are occasional difficulties, and a need to reverse and rethink. Just gaining access to some places has been a major headache! Some of the other things we wanted to try – like making more use of email to create a narrative, for example – just wasn’t possible because of the limitations of available software (I’m looking at YOU Google mail) but I’m pleased at what we have achieved, with a mix of old, new, the specially designed and the freely available on the web.

Emma: what has worked though, has worked very well, such as animating the drawings and linking them up with my blogs and photographs, and we’ve also interacted with some great people along the way, who help to flesh out the themes of the journey and encourage people to look at them in a new way.

Boswell’s Ghost: What though, would you say has had cause to surprise you on this journey? Travel can be precarious…

Emma: A pleasant surprise has been exploring areas and finding that although the people and buildings may have changed in the last 250 years, the nature of the place is still the same. For instance the site of Child’s Coffee house near St Paul’s in London is now an area covered in coffee shops and cafes. We may think of coffee shops as a modern convenience, but people having been going o St Paul’s Churchyard for a cup of ground beans for centuries.

Boswell’s Ghost: I am glad to hear that the citizens of London still sit in the shadow of that great, edifying building to conduct their business. It ensures the spiritual is retained even as we are engaged in our material wellbeing.

Boswell’s Ghost: The impression sir (and madam) of this project is of a happy union of disciplines that results in a most felicitous variety of experience in the eye of the beholder. Are there other such associations of artists and poets who have come together in a cross-disciplinary undertaking that have had cause to inspire you?

Emma: I think we’re inspired by all the traditional methods of documentation, but have put them together in an unusual way. I’ve been looking at online documentaries such as Maisie Crow the photographer, and the story4 journalists. Creating the navigation of the website was one of the hardest parts, and along with Ewan we looked at the Dummy Jim website, and even the Donnie Darko website from a few years ago. We’re probably closer to a web comic than anything else.

Mitch: I’ve liked Chris Dooks’ work on ‘Ayrtime’ - a mixture of live events, art, music and podcasting to help generate activity and interest in his local area. I also came across the Book of the Erinyes, which combines bookbinding, printmaking and surreal fiction, and documents it online.

Boswell’s Ghost: But what next for your partnership? Surely this will not be the last collaboration between you?

Emma: I think, sir, you are a unique character, and it’s hard to imagine doing this with any other figure. The detailed descriptions of your life that you left us have made it easy to track places down and inspire new work. But I’ve really enjoyed telling a story this way, through Mitch’s drawings my photographs and writing, so we’ll definitely do something like this again. In the meantime, I’ll be continuing with freelancing and script work.

Mitch: My thoughts are turning to the Red Road Flats and a small cinema installed inside a caravan. But I think we shall definitely work together again – though I’m going to let her come up with the idea for the next one…

Boswell in Space is unfolding at
 Find out about the latest developments on the Boswell in Space Facebook page.


Boswell in Space was one of the projects awarded cash from the Central Station Members Fund.