I could write about the strange aesthetics of annihilation, iconoclasm, nationalism, symbolism, weaponized cultural heritage and the murder of people, a place, an archaeologist. I am supposed to be an expert in this, after all. Intimate of the ancient.
Or, on a more personal level–how Palmyra blushed toward the blue desert sky. How I was ragged sick so I didn’t take very many photos, but dragged around the site anyway, sitting in the shade of columns. Picking out details. Petting the friendly cats in the ruins. Now every time I hear about something else being destroyed I go back over the same photos. How it was the same when I found out about the Umayyad Mosque in Aleppo, the Al-Madina Souq, Crac de Chevalier, Bosra, the Dead Cities–a UNESCO listing is a death sentence. These are only the big, well-known sites, there is extensive looting, destroying sites beyond all recovery.
It is easy to be glib (oh, now we can get to everything underneath! they were recorded anyway!) or post-modern (it’s only my white, western, colonialist/orientalist thinking that makes me care about old stacked stones), or relativistic (concrete houses & Greco-roman art, it’s all the same) and I’ve struggled through and re-written these scant 267 words. Yes, I care about people, I care about places, I care about things.
But I’m supposed to be an expert in caring about heritage and I still can’t find any fucking words. (though these help tremendously)
Analogue/Digital: Productive Tensions in Materiality and Archaeology
Abstract: As we integrate digital workflows into every aspect of archaeological methodology, it is increasingly apparent that we are all digital archaeologists (Morgan and Eve 2012). Yet archaeology has a long, productive and unfinished history with “analogue” media. Illustration, photography, dioramas, casts, paper-based maps, diagrams, charts and artistic renderings have all been – and continue to be – used to interpret and present archaeology to specialist and general audiences. Walter Benjamin argued that reproductive media destroys the “aura” of traditional artistic media (1968), and it has since been argued (Bolter et al. 2006) that digital media perpetuates a permanent crisis of this aura. As the premiere scholars of materiality, archaeologists can contribute to discussions of the context of, continuities between, and technological changes to these media artefacts. In this session we ask, in what ways are we using the digital in constructive interplay with the analogue? What can digital affordances reveal about analogue methodologies, and vice versa? And how are we pushing beyond skeuomorphic archaeological recording and rethinking the possibilities of media artefacts overall? We aim here to prompt reflective debate about, and speculative design of, the future of analogue/digital experimentation.
We have a fantastic set of participants:
Colleen Morgan (University of York) – Analogue/Digital: Spectrum, Landscape, Minefield? Laia Pujol-Tost (Universitat Pompeu Fabra) – Mixed exhibits. The best of both worlds? & Pixel vs pigment. The goal of Virtual Reality in Archaeology Sian Jones (University of Manchester) & Stuart Jeffrey – Material/Digital Authenticity: Some thoughts on digital 3D models and their material counterparts Christine Finn (FSA) – Field Work in the Cubicle, and Other Computer Histories, Kostas Arvanitis (University of Manchester) – Material Objects and Digital Avatars Sara Perry (University of York) – Redefining Media in Archaeology
As Sara wrote: are you investigating issues at the intersections of the physical and the ephemeral? Are you enrolling digital technologies into the production of tangible experiences, or alternatively, aiming to better understand the digital through tangible forms of interaction? Have you eschewed the digital in favour of analogue engagements in your archaeological/heritage work – or have you rethought the dimensions of one via experimentation with the other? How are you materialising digital practices? And how is our very conception of materiality being reconfigured (or not) by analogue/digital innovation?
For the Day of Archaeology this year, I wrote up my experiences at the US Ambassador’s House talking about Women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics), including my archaeology photo in the “distractingly sexy” campaign:
Eron Rauch’ post-photography in video games: “This panorama is made up of screenshots of every player corpse I came across while I levelled up my character in World of Warcraft.”
Last week I submitted my CAA paper, The Death (and Afterlife) of Archaeological Photography, for publication in the proceedings. It’s the second paper on photography and archaeology that I’ve submitted this month; the first was Archaeological Photography as Dangerous Supplement and covered the analog to digital transition, with some added content/semiotic analysis thrown in for good measure. It’s nice finally submitting some of this stuff for publication, and I still have a fairly large unpublished chunk to go. Let’s hope it gets through the peer review process relatively unscathed.
The Death & Afterlife paper deals with a second “wave” of digital photography in archaeology. I argue that the first wave was essentially skeuomorphic–that it replicated composition and content from film photography, just more and faster. The second wave has moved into what has been termed the post-photographic, and I explore what this means in terms of 3D photogrammetric reconstruction, drone photography, and geomedia. Though photography in archaeology is becoming increasingly algorithmic, with more layers processed and varying results at the end, the output at the end still points toward photography. For example, your nice 3D Photoscan model is still presented as a 2D image in your report. What will be truly revolutionary is when publication no longer flattens archaeology.
Photography in archaeology is, as Martin Lister states, “a residual cultural practice…technically dead but still animate,” a trait I cite in the title of my article. Photography is incredibly useful to think with, especially as we try to understand the place of digital media in archaeological interpretation. Photography is deeply implicated in the history of archaeology, both as products and projects of modernity. In my conclusions, I discuss the post-photographic in terms of the post-digital; I cite the post-digital as a shift akin to the postcolonial, what Florian Cramer calls a “critically revised continuation” rather than a turn toward the analog. Jeremy Huggett has posted some thoughts regarding the postdigital as well.
I was still thinking of all of this when I came across Eron Rauch’s A Land to Die in, a momento mori for video games–photographs of all the corpses of other players that he came across in World of Warcraft. His photographs remind me of those taken on Mount Everest, of people felled in mid-adventure, “a constant reminder of the masses of other people and their stories; some who conquered, some who fell, a million virtual Beowulfs”. I think about this as I make avatars of past people and machinima of past landscapes that end up becoming still images in powerpoint slides. Not-quite-photographs of not-quite-right reconstructions of dead people, all coming together in pixels. Can we still ask: what does the archaeological post-digital photograph want?
We had a chance to check out the Pop-Up Museum a couple of weeks ago, and they’ve done an impressive job with temporary displays with finds from the site. The site was in the London city ditch, so all manner of artifacts came out of it. At the Pop-Up Museum, you can open up the displays and have a chat with the archaeologists who worked on site.
The displays were impressive, and in a great location–right next to a standing part of the old city wall! The excavation was very close by as well, and Guy Hunt the director of the project was providing site tours.
You can still visit! July 17th & 18th, 2015 are the last two days of the Pop-Up Museum. It’s a great, innovative experiment in public archaeology. For more information:
Fleur Schinning (pictured above) is a masters student at Leiden University who is studying archaeology blogs and impact. She has asked several archaeology bloggers to host her questionnaire so she can gain insight in how blogs and social media can improve the accessibility of archaeology.
Has Middle Savagery made a small, crater-like impact into your cranium? Or are archaeology blogs for the birds?
G’on, take a few minutes to fill it out. You even have a chance to win six issues of Archaeology Magazine: