Anthropology and Photography 2014 (1)

British Museum, Clore Centre, 29-31 May 2014

(P30)

Archaeology and Photography

Location Sackler B
Date and Start Time 30 May, 2014 at 09:30

Convenors

Dan Hicks (University of Oxford)  email
Lesley McFadyen (Birkbeck)  email
 Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

This panel brings together studies of archaeological photography both as historical photographs in archives, and as contemporary practice. Themes may include, but are not limited to, time materials, fieldwork, representation, and documentation and the profilmic.

Long Abstract

Photography has been a central element of archaeological method and practice since the late 19th century, but archaeological photography has been relatively little explored, especially when compared with visual anthropology. This panel brings together new studies of archaeological photography: both of historical photographs in archives, and of contemporary practice. Particular themes in the study of archaeological photography may include, but are not limited to, time, materials, fieldwork, representation, and documentation and the profilmic.

Discussant: Dr Victor Buchli

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Alfred Maudslay's causality dilemma. Photography, Archaeology and the influence of nineteenth century travel literature.

Author: Duncan Shields (De Montfort University) email

Short Abstract

This paper will attempt to account for the relationship between travel literature of the nineteenth century and the photography of archaeological surveys in the work of Alfred Maudslay.

Long Abstract

Alfred Maudslay's archaeological work is well documented, yet many studies of his contributions to archaeological knowledge rely entirely on his literary productions or his collection of casts and objects removed from Central American Maya sites. The large collection of photographs Maudslay took is rarely used beyond contextual visualisations of Maya sites or biographical representations of his fieldwork.

Maudslay's relationship with the seminal travel narrative Incidents of Travel in Central America (1841) by Catherwood and Stephens has also been noted but never explored. This book, one of the most popular travel books of the nineteenth century, was the inspiration for Maudslay's fourteen year long fieldwork and could be seen as the template for his journeys.

This paper will aim to account for the close visual correlation between the Catherwood lithographs and the eight hundred photographs Maudslay produced between 1881 and 1894. It will suggest that Maudslay's journeys were more than mere imitation but a phenomenological recreation of Catherwood and Stephens journeys with the intention to produce an objective visual representation of Mesoamerican archaeology. In doing so, it will suggest that Maudslay's photographs were not simply an aide-de-memoire or autobiographical snapshot but the raison d'être of Maudslay's initiation in to the archaeological field. It will suggest that it was the recognition of a severe lack of accurate information in Catherwood's drawings and a realisation of the potential for photography to act within this role that initiated Maudslay's initial surveys of Maya sites rather than an overriding interest in Mayan archaeology

Reaching the Public: Archaeology and Photography in the Turkish Republic

Author: Melania Savino (KHI, Max Planck Society) email

Short Abstract

This paper aims to explore the visual representation of archaeology in the Turkish Republic through the medium of photography. Based on images found both in official publications and archives, this research investigates how archaeological knowledge was created and presented to the general public.

Long Abstract

The discipline of archaeology underwent a profound transformation after the foundation of the Turkish Republic. It became one of the main fields of investment for the government that was aiming to create a national Turkish identity and to legitimise the new Republic of Turkey. The Kemalist idea was to found a new state with new traditions, a new shared common heritage within the Turkish boundaries. The basis of this idea of nationalism was to reject the multi-cultural past of the Ottoman Empire and to construct a new cultural identity. Numerous excavations were conducted in Anatolia starting in the 1930s and photography became one of the primary tools to represent the past and make it available in front to a wider audience.

This paper aims to explore the relationship between photography and archaeology in the Turkish Republic in relation to the historical and cultural transformations that occurred in Turkey after the establishment of the Republic in 1923. Images in popular magazines and books contributed to the construction of knowledge about the past that was aimed at a wider audience both in Turkey and abroad, and the role of these images in promoting Turkish heritage has been largely neglected. Unofficial images from a private archive will also be taken into consideration to examine how the contemporary cultural climate of the Republic influenced many different aspects of the pictures kept in this archives, from the choice of the subjects to the recurrent themes included in the collection.

Visual Literacy and Site Photography in the Mid-Twentieth Century

Author: Charlotte Young (University of Exeter) email

Short Abstract

I am interested in how the photographic discourse in archaeology affects our perception of the discipline. Today, there is no specific study on how Processual and Postprocessual archaeology affected the visual representation of archaeology in photography published in academic and non-academic works.

Long Abstract

In this paper I will present a short history on the theories and methods of archaeological photography for the mid-twentieth century led by significant archaeologists and photographers at the time. This will provide a framework for reconstructing the historical thinking which lay behind the specific composition of "scientific" site photography. Next I will outline the historical context of the discipline of archaeology to show how it is possible that internal changes, which occurred within the theories and methods of processual and postprocessual archaeology, affected the creation and publication of site photography. After, I will discuss how contextual hermeneutics is the most useful theoretical approach in understanding how the standardisation of site photography was historically and culturally determined. In order to prove that it is possible to trace certain pictorial conventions in site photography during this period, I will analyse the results of my survey on published site photographs in eight academic and popular journals. With this quantitative data I will show how it is possible to determine the standardisation of "scientific" site photographs by measuring the frequency in which certain visual aesthetics appear in the images from 1950 to 1980.

Archaeological Photography as Dangerous Supplement?

Author: Colleen Morgan (University of York) email

Short Abstract

I will discuss the process of creating a theory-laden archaeological photography, using the photographic record from the sites of Catalhoyuk and Tall Dhiban. Through this record I will investigate photography and visualization as a particularly productive instance of the dangerous supplement.

Long Abstract

"But isn't a photographer who can't read his own pictures worth less than an illiterate?" (Walter Benjamin, 1968)

Archaeology has a long, complex, and fascinating entanglement with photography, a relationship that continues into the digital age. To understand the florescence of digital photography in archaeology, we must inhabit an interdisciplinary space, a space that lies between the compound field of visual studies and archaeology but that also attends to issues of representation, authority, and authenticity. Being conversant in visual analysis can help to create more robust visualization strategies in archaeology, but can have unintended consequences. Quantitative and qualitative analyses of both analog and digital archaeological photographs exposes interesting disciplinary shifts and uninterrogated power dynamics in the field. While digital photography is changing the way that archaeologists are thinking about and doing archaeology, it also reveals the complexity of the relationships present on an archaeological project, in the local community and online. In this, photography can act as a dangerous supplement for archaeology, a Derridean concept W.J.T. Mitchell ascribed to disrupting the cohesion of traditionally defined disciplines.

In this paper I will discuss the process of creating a theory-laden practice of archaeological photography, using the photographic record from the sites of Çatalhöyük in Turkey and Tall Dhiban in Jordan. Through this record I will investigate photography and visualization as a particularly productive instance of the dangerous supplement. Finally, I will explore the implications of merging this theory-laden practice with emancipatory strategies to achieve a more inclusive, reflexive archaeological praxis.

Unrepeatable Experiments: photographs and the double-historicity of archaeological archives

Author: Dan Hicks (University of Oxford) email

Short Abstract

This paper reports on archival research undertaken in 2014 into the author's own archaeological fieldwork, carried out for English archaeological units between 1989-1999. In doing so, the paper thinks through some of the limits of life-writing in archaeological thought and practice.

Long Abstract

This paper reports on archival research undertaken in 2014 into the author's own archaeological fieldwork, which was carried out for a range of private and local government archaeological units in the Midlands and Southern England over the course of a decade between 1989 and 1999. It considers the partialities constituted by archaeological archives, and the implications of their double historicity. In doing so, the paper explores the permeabilities between material, archival, and human time, in order to think through some of the limits of life-writing in archaeological thought and practice.

The Brodgar Stone: image and artefact

Author: Antonia Thomas (University of the Highlands and Islands) email

Short Abstract

This paper presents a photographic biography of the Brodgar Stone, a carved Neolithic slab found in 1924 at the Ness of Brodgar, Orkney. It then extends the discussion to include the wider assemblage from the site to explore the role that photography plays in constructing archaeological narratives.

Long Abstract

In 1924 an elaborately carved stone was found by a farmer in a field in Stenness, Orkney, and photographed by a local landowner. Now in the National Museum of Scotland, the stone has been re-photographed several times since, each subsequent image representing a subtle variation on the original photograph of the stone. They also conform to the same visual tropes which have existed since the first archaeological photography in relation to depth of field, lighting and composition. Each of these engender different ways of seeing and of representation, with often unexplored interpretive implications.

We now know that this stone came from the Ness of Brodgar, an extraordinary complex of Neolithic buildings which have been the focus of excavations by ORCA for the past 10 years. Over 600 decorated stones have now been recovered from the site, many of which remain in situ in the buildings. This assemblage is the focus of my current research, which involves cataloguing and photographing each stone, both in situ and in a studio if removed from site.

This paper presents a biography of the Brodgar Stone as image and artefact, then extends the discussion to include the contemporary experience of photographing the wider assemblage from the site. The narrative runs from the 1920s to the Neolithic, to the present day, and explores the role that historical and contemporary photography play in constructing archaeological narratives both today, and in the past.

At any given moment - archaeology and photography

Authors: Lesley McFadyen (Birkbeck) email
Mark Knight (Cambridge Archaeological Unit, University of Cambridge) email

Short Abstract

This paper is about how archaeology and photography share similar properties especially when it comes to exploring ideas concerning extent (space) and duration (time).

Long Abstract

This paper is about how archaeology and photography share similar properties especially when it comes to exploring ideas concerning extent (space) and duration (time).

Archaeology deals with what's left of movement, of being alive. It excavates 'the incline that matter descends' (Bergson 1911). Bizarrely, archaeology is often perceived of as a discipline that produces flat and quiescent representations of past events - a series of spatial snapshots as opposed to lived histories.

Early photography was the same in that its long-drawn-out exposure times could only register what survived of movement, but not movement itself. Yet its very inability to capture movement made it all the more precise in its ability to reveal the inert. Its focus, its depth of field, was highly sensitive to inanimate things (buildings and artefacts) which it reproduced at extraordinary resolution. Even as photographic technology advanced, and its capability to arrest movement improved, time was still involved in the production of an image - the photograph was still a composite of extent and duration.

Theorising photography, the photographic process, is our way of thinking differently about archaeology. It is our opinion that neither discipline produces flat quiescent representations of past events.

Mistaken images: intent and accident in archaeological photography

Author: Jennifer Baird (Birkbeck College, University of London) email

Short Abstract

Archaeological archives preserve many ‘failed’ photographs. Using archival photographs from 1920s and 30s excavations at Dura-Europos, this paper considers how unpublished photographs shaped archaeological knowledge, and what alternate histories of archaeology they might reveal.

Long Abstract

Archaeological photographs are often seen as neutral pieces of evidence whose purpose is to preserve or salvage that which was being excavated. Early guides to archaeological photographic practice emphasise this evidentiary quality, yet they also give instructions on how to create these images, carefully grooming the site and staging the scene. Despite attempts to create a specifically archaeological scientific picture, the resulting images never escape aesthetic underpinnings. Decisions made after the processing of the images, for instance in deciding which to include in a publication, or to circulate to colleagues, reveal where archaeological value was placed. Value and the construction of knowledge are also present in those photos that were not chosen - the "un-used" photograph, taken but never published. Archaeological archives preserve access to many such photographs, and those that were considered mistakes or failures, when something unwanted slipped into the frame. Using archival photographs from 1920s and 30s excavations at Dura-Europos in Syria, this paper attempts to consider how the unpublished photographs shaped archaeological knowledge, and what alternate histories of the site and alternate histories of archaeology they might reveal.

Archaeological Imaginaries and Erasures: photographing the Great Northern Coalfield

Authors: Oscar Aldred (Newcastle University) email

Short Abstract

This paper is based on a collaborative project called Imaginaries and Erasure in the Great Northern Coalfield. In this paper we will explore our research by addressing the specific way that Imagination and Erasure interact with one another when viewed through an archaeological lens.

Long Abstract

This paper is based on a project called Imaginaries and Erasure in the Great Northern Coalfield that explores the visible cultural legacies of post-industrial reclamation, specifically located in coalfields of Northumberland and County Durham. Photography is used to investigate change in the landscape, specifically the erasure of the surface evidence of coal mining, but also the diverse results of the land reclamation process itself. While large scale extractive industry has evident consequences which are often construed as a traumatic disruption of the landscape, we suggest that the closure of industry is often discussed in terms of the distressing effects it has upon those put out of work, their families and their communities. What has happened to former industrial land is less often discussed, and we suggest that reclamation can, in some circumstances, be considered as a further trauma, severing individuals and communities from reminders of their pasts. We recognise that photography can never be a neutral recording tool. In our research we ask how economic and policy factors have combined with preconceived aesthetic ideals to shape the post-industrial landscape and in what ways these factors can be made visible through photography? Photography has the potential, through what Walter Benjamin referred to as the 'optical unconscious', not just to record but also to reveal qualities that might otherwise remain hidden. This 'affect' is integral to the archaeological process too. This paper examines the specific way that Imagination and Erasure interact with one another when viewed through an archaeological lens.

Photographs as artefacts: a visual archaeology of three indigenous societies of Tierra del Fuego (southern South America)

Authors: Danae Fiore (CONICET) email
María Lydia Varela (Universidad de Buenos Aires ) email

Short Abstract

This presentation proposes a "visual archaeology" of ethnographic photographs as artefacts which contain information about indigenous socioeconomic practices and material culture trends. This approach is applied to 1130 photographs of 4000 individuals from 3 indigenous societies of Tierra del Fuego.

Long Abstract

This presentation summarizes some of the results of systematic investigations carried out on a corpus of 1130 photographs taken of people from three native societies of Tierra del Fuego (Shel'knam, Yámana and Alakaluf) between the late nineteenth and mid-twentieth century, by 44 photographers. The theoretical and methodological framework used in this paper proposes a "visual archeology" of the photographs conceived as artefacts which condense the traces of two agents: photographers and photographed subjects. Thus, these visual records shed light on the biases generated by the different photographers who took them, and on the different material culture patterns produced by each indigenous society. This framework has helped identify data of high and low visibility in the traditional archaeological record, including the use of structures (huts, windshelters, cabins, etc.) and the manipulation of artifacts (tools, clothes, ornaments, etc.) handled by more than 4000 photographed individuals. The information recorded includes demographic data (estimated age and gender) of the native individuals, and has allowed the identification of intra-society differences in the use of material culture items according to the age and gender of the individuals involved. At an inter-society level, differential patterns of material culture manipulation have been identified. All these data are relevant to distinguish specific socio-cultural patterns that characterize each Fueguian society.

Dust on the Lense: Instersections in Archaeology and Art Photography

Author: Ursula Frederick (Australian National University) email

Short Abstract

This paper surveys the work of contemporary Australian art photographers whose practice involves a dialogue with archaeology. In addition to considering artwork made within the landscapes and fabric of heritage, it explores how contemporary art photographers think and practice archaeologically.

Long Abstract

The sites and subjects of archaeological endeavour have long been a source of inspiration for artists. As well as the material record itself, processes, ideas and archaeological metaphors such as excavation, stratigraphy, classification and typology and even systems of artefact storage, presentation and display have proven to be fertile ground for artistic engagement. Photography, in particular, resonates historically with archaeology sharing a mutual interest in notions of the trace, the fragment, temporality, 'pastness' and fixity. This paper surveys the work of several contemporary Australian art photographers whose practice involves a dialogue with archaeology. In addition to considering those photographers who work within the landscapes and fabric of heritage I will explore some of the ways in which contemporary art photographers think and practice archaeologically. Many of these images are aesthetically powerful and creative representations, which allow us insight into how archaeology is viewed and imagined by those outside the discipline. Furthermore, the methods, materials and conceptual groundwork underpinning these photographic practices have the potential to both complement and challenge the contemporary practice of archaeology.

Excavating images: a photographic response to an archaeological excavation

Author: Carolyn Lefley (University of Hertfordshire) email

Short Abstract

In 2013 Timespan Heritage Museum in Scotland commissioned photographic artist Carolyn Lefley as their Artist in Residence during the excavation of a longhouse ruin. This paper explores the relationship between photography and archaeology, referencing Lefley’s methodology and photographic output.

Long Abstract

In 2013 Timespan Heritage Museum in Scotland commissioned photographic artist Carolyn Lefley as their Artist in Residence during the excavation of a longhouse ruin. This paper explores the relationship between photography and archaeology, referencing Lefley's methodology and photographic output.

This illustrated paper examines the parallels of the process of excavation, of peeling back the layers of earth to reveal evidence of the past and the indexical quality of a photograph to record reality. What is interesting about most excavations is that the site being revealed pre-dates the invention of photography.

Lefley collaborated with archaeologists to make a photographic response to the excavation. Fieldwork was combined with research exploring notions of home, the Highland Clearances (including diaspora and migration), excavating and documenting, art and archaeology. Out of this research and time spent daily at the dig, Lefley made new work using a variety of photographic techniques to create new artefacts that now sit alongside the findings of the excavation in the museum. The paper concludes with a presentation of the photographic output from the excavation. 'The Diaspora Stones' are a new collection of pseudo photographic fossils exploring key themes linked to the excavation, including abandonment, home and migration. 'The Descendants' are a series of photographic portraits taken at the dig site, which reference the tradition of the human scale in archaeological photography.

Drawing on Photographs: Aerial Photogrammetry and Virtual Mapping, 1865 to 1900

Authors: Helen Wickstead (Kingston University) email
Martyn Barber (English Heritage) email

Short Abstract

The spectacular failures of early aerial photography reveal that, although aerial photographs are often treated as virtual maps today, making this equivalence requires fundamental transformations in ways of viewing and relating drawings and photographs.

Long Abstract

Today the equivalence between aerial photographs and maps appears near complete. At just a click virtual mapping software shifts from aerial photographs to maps. Archaeology, like many other disciplines, routinely reproduces this implied equivalence, using aerial photographs to produce archaeological sites as drawings that can be mapped. This paper interrupts the assumed visual equivalence between aerial photographs and maps by highlighting the work that has been necessary to allow aerial photographs to operate like virtual maps. We focus on two case studies which, although they appear ground-breaking with the benefit of hindsight, largely failed in their own time. In the first example, anthropological photographer Francis Galton developed stereoscopic vertical aerial photography, inventing stereoscopic pocket maps for travelers, which, despite the immense popularity of the stereoscope, failed to find a market. Our second example relates the tragedy of aerial photography pioneer Henry Elsdale, who unsuccessfully attempted to interest military and government cartographers in mapping from aerial photographs, a method that they believed would never catch on. These two failures allow us to analyze the varieties of difficulty involved in establishing aerial photographs as virtual maps, both on the part of map readers and map-makers. Although developments like Google Earth have made apprehending and manipulating photographs as if they were maps commonplace, this visual practice nonetheless required important changes to the ways we view and relate photographs and drawings.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.