Category Archives: photography

Archaeological Photography as Dangerous Supplement

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Later this week I am presenting a paper in Dan HicksArchaeology and Photography session at the Photography and Anthropology conference at the British Museum. Here’s the abstract for my talk:

Archaeological Photography as Dangerous Supplement

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.

Archaeology in Action on Flickr

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“KRG3 cemetery. Attacked by small biting flies in the late afternoon, Kurgus, northern Sudan.” – Scott Haddow

The Flickr group that I sporadically moderate, Archaeology in Action, is almost a decade old! I try to go in every couple of months and clean out the travel photos and such that inevitably creep in there. I’m always happy to see the fantastic contributions that the group attracts.

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“At the end of excavation, the final rites. Mapungubwe, 1995, inhabited around 1200 AD is now a World Heritage Site. This was one of the last large scale excavations done on the site.” – Marius Loots

In some ways, it is an interesting practice in defining representation of the field. No, that isolated artifact in the museum is not “archaeology in action.” But if the conservator is working on it–sure. Ultimately, I have an audience in mind: those who want to see archaeologists at work in various contexts.

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“Horton excavations 2013.” – Wessex Archaeology

While Flickr has been neglected over the years, and then overhauled in horrible, horrible ways, it is still a relatively good resource as an archive of photos that you can self-curate and distribute with Creative Commons licensing.

Here are past updates about the group:

Archaeology in Action Update
Archaeology in Action, Another Update

If you curate your photos on Flickr, I encourage you to contribute your photos of archaeology in action to the group here:

Archaeology in Action

 

Fuzzy France, Crisp Yorkshire, and Murky Italy: A Photography Update

I’ve been trying to take photographs again, and not just the snappy-snap iPhone photos that are uploaded to Instagram, that I treasure for their quick and easy conversational imagery.

Dan and I brought a 1930s £5 medium format camera with us to France over the summer and had a lot of fun finding film, setting up shots, and generally taking the time to play with the analog format. It was great, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat, but I may take a roll of test shots first, as these were the atmospheric, but not completely desirable results:

So I’ve been trying to haul the Nikon D200 around with me, both on walks in Yorkshire:

And more recently in Padova/Padua:

and Venice:

For a 7-year-old (!!) camera, the D200 is still solid, though suffering from several dead pixels at this point. You can check for dead pixels in your own camera by taking a photo with the lens cap still on, or by noticing horrible bright spots when you take an otherwise lovely photo. They are non-fatal but annoying, and I should have had the D200 serviced years ago.

Reports that the DSLR is dead are vastly overstated, though I could concede that the iPhone is the new DSLR while the DSLR is the new video camera. I was able to order equipment with my new (awesome) postdoc and I’ll be producing short films with this nifty piece of kit, pretty soon.

When Urban Archaeology Turns Into Street Photography

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I am going through the Origins of Doha photo archives before we start the new season here in Qatar and I’m finding unexpected treasures. Buildings recording and photography is difficult in Doha, and it is difficult to get clear, direct photos of architecture. I’m not sure if Kirk or Katie took those photo, but it is one of my favorites.

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This another one of my favorites–no scale, but I could look at the texture and multiple repairs on the wall for ages.

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Finally, I fully intend to use this in a class someday–can you figure out the building sequence?

Call for Photo Essays: Journal of Contemporary Archaeology

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The new Journal of Contemporary Archaeology will feature one photoessay per issue. Photoessays may include up to 20 colour images and should include 2-3,000 words of text. The journal will be published online and in print twice yearly, with the first issue appearing in Spring 2014. Photoessays should engage with issues relating to the journal’s aims and scope. Further information is available here: http://www.equinoxpub.com/JCA

Please contact Rodney Harrison if you have any queries or would like to discuss a submission.

Arabs in London (and on Instagram)

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Peter Marlowe, Arabs in London, 1976

I was reluctant at first to create (yet another) project Facebook page. I think a lot of people are experiencing “like” fatigue and running social media for organizations cashes out your social media circle pretty fast. Really Colleen? Asking me to like yet another one of your projects? C’mon. Still, Facebook remains one of the best ways to inform people about archaeology online, especially people who are not already interested in archaeology. So, I created the Origins of Doha page on Facebook:

http://www.facebook.com/OriginsOfDoha

As this season of archaeology is finished, there aren’t a lot of updates from the field to create interest and traffic. Happily I have a large archive of old photographs of Doha to look through and post. There just aren’t a lot of resources for this sort of thing online, and most old photos of the Gulf are in private/personal collections. I love being able to share these photos, especially as many residents are completely unaware that there were older buildings before the shiny towers and large developments came to Doha. I think a lot of these photos resonate with people as they depict familiar places (like the Corniche) before a lot of the prominent development.

Race on the Corniche in Doha, 1974.

Race on the Corniche in Doha, 1974.

Anyway, I wrote a bit about photography in the Middle Eastern context for my thesis, and it is one of the parts that I’m developing into future research on depictions of heritage and authenticity. So I was very happy when I was contacted  through the Origins of Doha Facebook page by the lovely person behind this Tumblr/Instagram of crowd-sourced family photos from the Middle East:

http://zamaaanawal.tumblr.com/

When I asked her why she worked on this she answered that it was because so many collections aren’t publicly available online. So she’s making her own. Absolutely brilliant. Her archive also revealed a lovely bit of synchronicity. Peter Marlowe has a series of photographs titled “Arabs in London”, as featured above. The women is in the middle of the shot, in front of Harrods and between two cars, perhaps attempting to show a dissonance between her appearance and her surrounds. One of the contributors to Zamaan’s archive recognized her:

It’s @Mozishaq’s aunt. Taken from iconic “Arab” to auntie on Instagram.

Though we already feel oversaturated by social media, it still has the ability to surprise, delight, and de-center.

Inside “Faces of Archaeology” at WAC-7

Füsun Ertuğ formerly of Yeditepe University. She conducts paleobotanical research in Turkey.

During the 2013 World Archaeological Congress meetings in Jordan, Jesse Stephen and I organized a small project titled The Faces of Archaeology. The project was developed as a part of a larger social media push at WAC-7 that for the most part went unimplemented due to technical issues. Happily, this project did not depend on internet accessibility and Jesse and I were able to capture over 100 portraits of attendees of WAC-7.

While scholarship and science can mask their practitioners, the individuals involved in archaeological research are nevertheless a diverse group.  Such diversity, however, is not always easy to see in the discipline.  However, the latest generation of archaeologists has interrogated the question of who conducts archaeological research and the significance of this answer perhaps more explicitly than in any previous era. As a global organization, the World Archaeological Congress endeavors to represent, integrate, and further a diverse body of archaeological participants. This project will reinforce these principles, making them visible through a body of photographic work.

Faces of Archaeology is a photographic project that will be completed during the 2013 Congress in Jordan.  During the weeklong event, a lens will be turned on a wide variety of people connected to the archaeological record and the Congress. Through a collection of portraiture and short interviews, a sample of people, purposes, and motivations currently involved in archaeology will aim to illuminate the diversity of archaeology.  Framed by this gathering of people in Jordan, and also by a selection of its notable archaeological sites, we will persue a glimpse of the discipline at large.

The results have been stunning so far–Jesse Stephen is such an amazing photographer! We have been posting the portraits here:

http://archaeologyfaces.tumblr.com/

We’ll update every week with 10 more portraits, so keep checking back!

Take Two: Rephotography in Doha

Should that be re-rephotography?

I wasn’t entirely happy with my last attempt at rephotography, so we tried again. This time, we went while the area was somewhat deserted and took photographs across a wide plane of vision, then stitched them together as a pano. I would have liked having people in the modern photograph, but they tend to move, which is not so good if you are trying to stitch photographs together.

Instead of just getting a small window of current Doha within historic Doha, we were able to make them equal players, which I like. This was a much easier photoshop job as well, just two layers, a mask, and a gradient and there we have it. I thought about masking some of the details out near the mosque in the background, but some confusion in the overlay is a good thing–not a seamless past melting into the present, but a hodgepodge–this appeals to my sense that reconstructions should present the messy palimpsest that archaeological interpretations entail.

Quintessential Rescue Archaeology: The Origins of Doha Project

The construction site where we excavated as part of the Origins of Doha Project.

At some point I decided that it would be a great idea to book a flight from San Francisco to Doha, Qatar on the day after the end of the Fall 2012 semester–my deadline to file my Ph.D. A week later, I’m mostly recovered from that last, big push to finish, cleaning out my apartment for my subletter, partying beyond all reason at Cheyla and Nico’s house, and hopping a jet to fly 8,000 miles.

As is my current pattern, I got in for the last week of work at the Origins of Doha Project’s site in central Doha. We hope to work a bit more at a different site in January, but we’ll see. The site is a giant, chaotic construction zone with 5,000 construction workers going everywhere all the time and 19 tower cranes whirling overhead.

The insides of one of the heritage houses stripped out and lined with concrete.

Most of the archaeological remains are long gone, but there were a few  “heritage” houses that are being preserved, though they’ve been heavily restored twice and are pretty disturbed. These heritage houses are becoming a museum and are being cleared out to accommodate air conditioning and other modcons, so we were brought in to record what was left of earlier builds of the houses.

The exterior of one of the heritage houses, excavation director Daniel Eddisford for scale.

I helped my friend (and former Zubarah colleague) Kirk dig and record a little bit, spending an inordinate amount of time on an isometric sketch of a blocked concrete drain setting next to a well and a bath inside of a house. The team had been digging for a couple of weeks–I was surprised to find that this was the first archaeological excavation performed in Doha. Cool. We returned to site the next day to record a couple of wells in a different heritage house.

The well. A bit difficult to record, yeah? There’s dirt over the measuring tape so I don’t trip over it and fall into the well.

This is the well I recorded. The utility of drawing is probably pretty obvious in this case, as you can’t get a good photograph of the well with all the safety scaffolding in place. I pounded a nail in the eastern wall with my trowel and strung a line across the room. The houses are on a North-South orientation, so it made drawing the multicontext plan easy. There was a later soak-away coming in from the western wall that I also recorded. A soak-away is basically a drain coming from a toilet. The well was over three meters deep and didn’t smell, thankfully.

My kit in the doorway, with my unfinished multicontext plan.

It was still really awkward to move in the room and I tried to spend as little time over the well as possible and still record it. It was urban rescue archaeology all the way–dodging bulldozers and improvising the best way to record fairly trashed stratigraphy as quickly as possible while still producing the best record we could for the archive.

 

Broken Houses by Ofra Lapid

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If I created a venn diagram of my interests, these photographs from Ofra Lapid would be a beautiful fit for the intersection of site depositional processes (ruined houses), dioramas, and photography. While these are more akin to papercraft than true dioramas, I love that they reference digitality–when I create a 3D reconstruction of a structure, I take photos such as these to create skins or textures for the buildings. This is obviously one step further, the creation of a 3D structure that is then printed out and reassembled as a small model.

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I’d love to make papercraft models of some of the buildings that I have recreated, but most of the software is PC-only. I could work around it, but it is definitely in the “TO DO…LATER” category.

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