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 It’s nice finally submitting some of this stuff for publication, and I still have a fairly large unpublished chunk to go.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?
I’ve been using Flickr for photographs since 2005, and have administered a group “Archaeology in Action” for almost as long. There’s 630 members and almost 4,200 photographs of archaeologists doing that thing we like doing so well.
Interestingly, being the admin for the group helped me define what it meant to be an “archaeologist in action”–what does our discipline cover? It also helped me define what an archaeological photograph is, exactly. HINT: NOT YOUR TRAVEL PHOTOS OF THE PYRAMIDS. I delete those mercilessly.
Why? Why should I censor the tourists? Aren’t their experiences of the site just as legitimate as ours? Perhaps. But it wasn’t archaeology. The Flickr group was cultivated to be a resource for educators, and to show a diversity of people doing archaeology. That last, active part was also important. Someone in the photo had to be doing something. Even if that someone was behind the camera. The photographer had to make archaeological seeing visible.
The group has been motoring on, attracting spam, but also, occasionally, surprising me with gorgeous, raw, photos from around the world of the incredible, strange, delightful tasks of archaeology.
Recently Flickr took away one of my most favorite functions–note taking. I loved this function as I was able to annotate maps and photographs to explain different features–it was great for outreach. I heard that they’ll add it back soon. Let’s cross our fingers!
In the meantime, if you have any photos of archaeology in action, sling them toward the group!
Previous photo-based posts highlighting Archaeology in Action. I probably should have made it a series at some point. Or at least had a consistent naming scheme:
The inimitable Sara Perry and I have been working on the archaeological excavation of a hard drive, for science! We’ve been writing about it on Savage Minds, the Other blog about Savages. Here are the blog posts in order:
- What Archaeologists Do
- What Archaeologists Do: Between Archaeology and Media Archaeology
- What Archaeologists Do: Research Design and the Media Archaeology Drive Project (MAD-P)
- What Archaeologists Do: The Site Report & What it Means to Excavate a Hard Drive
I’m also very excited that the Punk Archaeology volume has landed, be sure to download it–there’s a photo of me holding a trowel! A leaf trowel, BUT STILL! Many thanks to Bill Caraher, Andrew Reinhard and Kostis Kourelis for bringing the project together and allowing me to make my small contribution. Download it! Love it! Share it!
While you read the article, here’s the accompanying playlist:
Finally, with huge amounts of help from our vibrant community of digital archaeologists here at the University of York, I organized a Minecraft & Archaeology event as part of Yornight. I actively did not promote it much, as it was a pilot scheme and I wasn’t sure how it would play out. It went very well though and we were at capacity during much of the evening. I’ve been asked to write it up in a journal, so more details will be forthcoming. You’ll get a sneak preview if you happen to be in Shawn Graham’s class this evening, as I’m a remote guest in the classroom. If it works. We’ve been trying to remotely collaborate since 2006, so fingers crossed!
Your powerpoint slides are probably okay, especially if you forbid anyone from taking photographs of your talk. The video of your excavations, that hilarious one that your intrepid students made that uses the popular song that you all sang while shoveling? Probably okay, as long as you never share it on YouTube. But to be able to publicize your efforts, and to share online with others, you must be cognizant of this great (and often unspoken) rule:
With great public archaeology, comes great responsibility…to copyright law.
“But I’m an educator! I’m not doing it for profit! I have only the very best of intentions!”
Sorry, folks. There are very strict laws about copyright in the US and the UK, even for the most angelic of researchers, teachers, and students. Did you know that in the UK you have to wait 70 years after the principal director, author of the screenplay, author of the dialogue, and composer of the music ALL DIE until you can use a movie without restrictions?** 70 freakin’ years. I know my artful multimedia museum display won’t wait that long. Are these laws sane, just, and better for innovation & society? No. But until the day that Lawrence Lessig rules the world, we are probably stuck with navigating copyright. Sure, you can fly the pirate flag, copy and distribute everything, but at least be aware you are doing it.
We could get into a horribly complex dissection of the disgusting entrails of copyright, but I’m going to assume that: 1) you don’t care about copyright law 2) BUT you’d like to keep your nose clean and 3) that you may actually care about contributing to the wider media discourse about archaeology. So let’s talk basic best practices.
1) USE – media with clear copyright. That photo that you scraped from the pdf? The photo posted online with no attribution? Not okay. Everything is under copyright, whether you see the © or not. The key is to use media that has been pre-cleared for use. This is Creative Commons (CC). For my projects, I try to use music, images, and fonts (yes, fonts!) that are available under Creative Commons.
There are a few varieties of CC licenses, and you can read about them in detail here, but I’ll quickly go over them:
Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY) This means that you are free to use, share, remix, as long as you attribute the original work. My favorite license, as it asks (okay, tells) you to attribute my work, but please use it as you like.
Creative Commons Attribution, Share Alike (CC-BY-SA) This means that you have to attribute the work, and that you have to share the work under the same Creative Commons license. Many people (including myself in the past) thought that this was a good idea so as to spread the CC around, but ultimately it limits the ways that your work can be used. Screw it, just use (CC – BY).
Creative Commons Attribution, Non Commercial (CC-BY-NC) This means that you must attribute the work, but you can’t use it commercially. A lot of educators use this one, but I try to avoid it. What about the professional archaeologists among us? They need media too.
Public Domain – Jackpot! This media has no known copyright restrictions. Most of the media labeled with this comes from our most worshipful friends, the enlightened librarians and archivists who have identified works that are in the public domain and then twisted the arm of their institution to digitize them and host them, for free. I love these people. With that in mind, it is kind to thank the institution. And buy your activist librarian/archivist friend a drink.
(added 30 July 2014)
No Rights Reserved (CC0) – As was rightly pointed out, I forgot CC0! Unlike the Public Domain license above, this is for folks who have made something recently and want to opt out of copyright protection altogether. It’s an amazing, gutsy license–I still like to keep my attribution attached. It’s probably one part wanting to respect intellectual lineage and one part ego-based.
2) CREATE – Once you know what the different licenses mean, you can start using CC media to create all your finest scholarly outreach. But where do I find such a thing?
We started a slightly shonky wiki that lists some of our favorite resources for free/CC media and tutorials, please feel free to add to it:
Better yet, Creative Commons hosts a handy search page for you to find images, music, and video here:
You can also tweak your settings in Google Image Search to look for CC content.
I try to credit all of the photos actually in or near the photos, but if they’re in a movie, a list of credits at the end will suffice. I nearly fall out of my seat when I see an academic presentation that properly credits the authors of the media. It shows a commitment to authorship and multivocality as well as professionalism. Love your media makers. They make you.
3) SHARE – To me, using Creative Commons for sharing is at the very heart of public archaeology. You are explicitly sharing your academic or professional labor and giving permission to others to use it to build upon. Simple, but beautiful.
Flickr, Soundcloud, and Youtube all allow you to share your media under Creative Commons in a relatively easy fashion. The benefit to using “free” social media-based corporate hosting is that more people will see/use your content, and that it is better distributed to protect against catastrophic data loss. If you host it yourself, you can just put a CC license on the media webpage and share that way. Better yet, put the CC license in the object’s metadata and it will more likely stay intact. But don’t worry if that sounds too complicated.
Also, keywording your content makes it much easier for people to find and use. Happily, there is a pretty good guide on how to do this HERE. Sharing your excavation images online with good keywording can also save your bacon if you have massive data loss at 3AM on the way to your conference. whew.
Stu Eve and I talk briefly about some of the issues around Creative Commons and Open Access in our 2012 article HERE, but to be brief, archaeologists should use CC media by default, and adopt CC licensing whenever and wherever possible.
Do it because you want to stay within copyright laws. Do it because you want to show respect for fellow archaeologists and media makers. Do it because you want to make photos of archaeology available to everyone. Do it because you fear for the longevity of the archive. Do it because you had the worst time last week finding an example of a grave register to reuse in a short film. Do it because you hate stock photos of archaeologists with clean clothes and plastic whips.
Do it to put the past into the future.
* I realize that there is some complexity here with indigenous knowledge, and with sharing precise archaeological locations, but for simplicity, we’re going to side-step it for the moment.
** The UK law is changing as of October 2014. Hopefully for the better, but it’s generally for the worse.
I’m chairing a session at this year’s Digital Heritage conference at the University of York–it should be really interesting! Here is the line-up:
Mhairi Maxwell – The ACCORD Project (Archaeology- Community Co-Design and Co-production of Research Data)
Sara Perry – Cultivating democracy and good citizenship via digital visualisation in archaeology
Carrie Heitman – Facilitating Communities of Collaboration: A Case Study from the American Southwest
Gareth Beale – Digital Imaging, Heritage and Participation at Basing House
Lorna Richardson – Digital Activism, Digital Volunteerism
The conference will be on July 12, 2014, for more details check out the event page:
And you can register here:
It finally occurred to me to post my thesis on Academia.edu. Proquest seems to be taking their sweet time to index it. Here’s the abstract and download link:
As archaeologists integrate digital media into all stages of archaeological methodology, it is necessary to understand the implications of using this media to interpret the past. Using digital media is not a neutral or transparent act; to critically engage with digital media it is necessary to create an interdisciplinary space, drawing from the growing body of new media and visual studies, materiality, and anthropological and archaeological theory. This dissertation describes this interdisciplinary space in detail and investigates the following questions: what does it mean to employ digital media in the context of archaeology, how do digital technologies shape inquiry within archaeology, can new media theory change interpretation in archaeology, and can digital media serve as a mechanism for an emancipatory archaeology? To attend to these questions I address digital media created by archaeologists as digital archaeological artifacts, understood as active members of a network of interpretation in archaeology. To give structure to this understanding I assemble three object biographies that identify the digital archaeological artifact’s context, the authorship of the artifact, the inclusion of multiple perspectives involved in its creation, and evaluate the openness or ability to share the artifact. The three object biographies that constitute the body of this work are a digital photograph taken of a teapot at Tall Dhiban in Jordan, a digital video of an unexpected excavator participating at Çatalhöyük in Turkey, and a 3D reconstruction of a Neolithic building excavated at Çatalhöyük within the virtual world of Second Life. In these object biographies I weave together narrative, imagery and rigorous, theoretically informed analyses to provide a reflexive investigation of digital archaeological artifacts. Drawing from this research, I advocate a critical making movement in archaeology that will enable archaeologists to use digital media in an activist, emancipatory role to highlight inequity, bring the voices of stakeholders into relief, de-center interpretations, and to make things and share them.
And here’s the link on Academia.edu: