Category Archives: photography

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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Special Delivery – Endless Canvas’ Huge Warehouse Graffiti Show

SWAMPY – from Fecalface.com.

I’ve been more peripatetic than usual lately; we subletted our apartment in anticipation of a visa that was a month late in coming so I’ve been housesitting all over the East Bay. I’ve stayed in four different places, all inhabited by archaeologists–I’ve started making jokes about how I’m studying their settlement patterns. I thought about drawing plans of the layouts of the houses, but then felt like it would be an invasion of privacy–so what kind of implications does that have for archaeological practice?

Special Delivery – by Fecalface.com

Anyway, last Saturday night I took the bus down from my latest domicile in Richmond to check out Endless Canvas’ unbelievable “Sistine Chapel” of graffiti art in a warehouse in West Berkeley. It was held in the former Flint Ink building, a warehouse that has been vacant since 1999. When I walked up to the warehouse I was stunned to see a huge line full of families along with the requisite cool kids. The three floors of the warehouse were lit with industrial spot lights and there were multiple DJ setups, infusing the concrete with thudding hip hop and techno. The building was absolutely covered and I walked through the warehouse several times, up stairs, looking down elevator shafts and out onto the nearby train tracks.

There were several gargantuan pieces by my favorite Bay Area artists–GATS, SWAMPY, Deadeyes along with a few I didn’t recognize. I didn’t have my DSLR, so I took a few shots with my iphone, but I felt that it was mostly unnecessary–so many people were shooting that you could probably reconstruct the entire installation from images on the web. Besides, I’m not sure I could really add to the gorgeous documentation:

Devote, by Endless Canvas

Along with the photographs are a series of videos that show the intense connection to place that graffiti artists have and how they express this through their art. The videos also features a “buffer,” a guy that goes around and paints over the graffiti art and so is deeply familiar with all of the different artists.

When I walk through Oakland the graffiti resonates so strongly with my experience of the city. New pieces, old pieces, new artists, artists referencing each other–it’s an intense dialog with place that can be both intimate, you won’t see certain pieces or stickers unless you walk the street and grandiose, such as the huge pieces that welcome you back to Oakland after you go under the Bay in the BART. Graffiti in Oakland is a passionate expression of defiance and home and I feel deeply lucky that I managed to be around for its effloresce.

Permanent Error – A Distraction by Pieter Hugo

Photo by Pieter Hugo

I slowly cranked the handle on the end of the bookcase, sliding the high-density shelving over, clicky-clicky-clicky-click. The books I wanted were way in the back and I had about eight bookcases to move, large wedges of books moving slowly across the floor in the basement of the main library here at Berkeley. It’s finals week, so I took extra care that no students were hiding or sleeping between the stacks. When I got to the book I was looking for, I immediately took all the books to either side, and a few miscellaneous titles that caught my eye. I can’t really tell if it is a good or bad habit–you understand the range of literature on the subject that you are interested in, but you pick up a lot of random and possibly distracting books as well.

I managed to find an empty end of a long desk, and put my huge stack of books next to me. It is a pleasure to be back in a library where I can work this way again, weeding through large stacks of books, gleaning references, cross checking on worldcat, finding all the journal articles that cite the books, and so forth. I assembled the books on digital photography to review, noting a few new additions–working on digital media is always a losing battle, as it’s a field that is in flux and constantly growing. One of the additions was a medium-sized orange-red volume, pleasingly bound, and heavy with photography–Contemporary Photography from the Middle East and Africa. A distraction, surely, but…why not?

I paged through large, lush panels of photographs, discovering a few new names, modes, inspiration, but then I came across one of those arresting photographs that I will never be able to forget:

Jatto with Mainasara, from Pieter Hugo’s ‘Gadawan Kura – The Hyena Men Series II’

Sadly the version on the screen can’t do this photo justice, but the active pose of Jatto, the hyena, the photographer’s framing–spectacular. So I went looking for more Pietro Hugo:

Of course! He directed “Control” by Spoek Mathambo, the amazing darkwave South African track that was going around last year.

Finally, I went to Pieter Hugo’s webpage to see what else he has worked on. I immediately found more of his Hyena series, then clicked on Permanent Error, his latest work.

Photo by Pieter Hugo

Hugo has been documenting an obsolete technology dump in Ghana. From the artist’s website:

Notions of time and progress are collapsed in these photographs. There are elements in the images that fast-forward us to an apocalyptic end of the world as we know it, yet the alchemy on this site and the strolling cows recall a pastoral existence that rewinds our minds to a medieval setting. The cycles of history and the lifespan of our technology are both clearly apparent in this cemetery of artifacts from the industrialised world. We are also reminded of the fragility of the information and stories that were stored in the computers which are now just black smoke and melted plastic.

Photo by Pieter Hugo.