Later this week I am presenting a paper in Dan Hicks‘ Archaeology 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.
“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.
“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.
“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
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:
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.
Posted in Archaeology, photography
Tagged Archaeology, dslr, instagram, iphone, italy, padua, photography, travel, venice, yorkshire
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.
This another one of my favorites–no scale, but I could look at the texture and multiple repairs on the wall for ages.
Finally, I fully intend to use this in a class someday–can you figure out the building sequence?
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.
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:
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.
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:
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.
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:
We’ll update every week with 10 more portraits, so keep checking back!
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.
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.
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.