E. Opening Dialogs in Archaeological Photography

Organizer: Heather Law, University of California, Berkeley

Saturday, May 7th
9:00 – 12:00 (Viewing)
1:30 – 6:30 (Critique)
Kroeber 120


In a discipline that has yet to master the balance between mind and body, human and thing, photographs can inhabit uniquely limbic and potentially very powerful positions. Photographs provide a tangible middle ground between the observing subject and the observable object, and in so doing, reaffirm both the situatedness of human perspectives and the sovereignty of the material world.  Photography’s ability to transcend time and space imbues it with more power still, allowing it to trigger a spectrum of reactions in and effects upon its viewers, all of which both distort and relay meaning.  Among other things, photographs enable people to remember, forget, idealize, anesthetize, and democratize (Benjamin 1936; Barthes 1966; Sontag 1977); yet archaeologists have just begun to question the potential authority, ambiguities and tensions that lie within the photographs we create.  This session will attempt to discuss the past and potential roles of photography in archaeology.  From artifact photography to photographs as artifacts, from documentary photography to art photography (and everything that lies between); what effect has photography had on archaeology in the past, and what can it do in the future?  How might we rethink or renew the practice?  The gallery style format of this session is intended to promote the exhibition of a diversity of photographic perspectives and initiate a dialog between fellow participants and their work.


Archaeology and the In(ter)vention of Photography

Frederick Bohrer, Hood College, bohrer@hood.edu

Archaeological photography uneasily embraces two opposite tendencies.  It was invited into archaeological use largely for documentary purposes: for conveying appearances quickly, simply, and with reliable mechanical accuracy.  On the other hand, photography has come into its role not by solely recording but also by remaking the archaeological object.   One can trace a growing realization by both archaeologists and photographers of the varied possibilities and limitations of photography.  This history of expectation must be juxtaposed with the technical development of photography itself, of changes in cameras, film, and technique, and with changing assumptions about the past and the possibilities for capturing it.

Topographic – Photographic: Dialogues with the Recent Past

Thóra Pétursdóttir, University of Tromsoe, thora.petursdottir@uit.no

Photography’s contribution to archaeology is unquestioned. However, its importance in terms of both documentation and representation notwithstanding , it largely holds a secondary value in archaeological discourses. The role of images is to be subservient to the text, to “illustrate” and support, and more active, experimental and “artistic” uses are often dismissed as subjective and unscientific. Using examples from my research on modern Icelandic ruins, I will challenge this hierarchy and show how photography enables alternative and genuine statements about the past and provides a means to make manifest the heterogeneous and ineffable that often is left out of scientific prose.

Photography at the Intersection: Art Photography as a Tool for Archaeological Thinking

Ursula Frederick, Australian National University, ursula.frederick@anu.edu.au

Beyond its application as a technology of recording, photography has long shared a conceptual thread with archaeology. This paper traces the linkages between photography and archaeology, beginning with the trace and index of object to the contemporary portraiture of place. I discuss how photography as a mode of practice-based research is a tool for archaeological thinking. A specific body of work concerned with car culture will be the focus of this discussion.

Intersubjective Imaging – Learning to See Through Many Lenses

Michael Ashley, University of California, Berkeley, mashley@berkeley.edu

Photography is essential for the documentation, presentation, and interpretation of cultural heritage and archaeology, yet it is often treated as technique instead of discipline or specialization. In the digital age, images can be multi-dimensional frameworks capable of capturing remarkable depths of information. Students of 136E: Digital Documentation and Representation of Cultural Heritage will push the boundaries of archaeological imaging — learning to create, manage, read and interpret, trust or debunk photographic evidence and appreciate artistic expressions. The result: a set of richly encoded works collaboratively designed to countervail the potency of the framed image by encouraging conversations beyond the pixel.

The Dig (Photographs of an urban excavation in London)

Guy Hunt, L – P Archaeology, guy.hunt@lparchaeology.com

The photographs in “The Dig” series are a response to 6 months spent excavating on London’s eastern Roman cemetery. I wanted to capture the feeling of digging/being on the deep urban stratigraphy sites of London. These sites are highly symbolic within the world of ‘the digger’ where they have been the forming grounds of great archaeologists and of archaeological fieldwork methods. The unpretentious and craftsman-like way archaeology is done and the almost self destructively hard lifestyle of the diggers themselves fascinated me and resonated with a series of different themes and feelings that were in my thoughts during the dig.

Beautiful Decay and Fallow Spaces of Human Life

David R. Cohen, University of California, Berkeley, dcohen@berkeley.edu

My subjects are associated with the abandonment and decay of physical spaces and materials, on one hand to document a moment in time of a life-history, and on the other to accentuate the visual beauty of decay during the processes of site formation. Within abandoned spaces I am drawn to objects that were left in place, never to be used again by people, and try to represent the story of their lost connection to the world within which they sit dormant. What happens to human creation when it is left to fallow is a beautiful thing.

Photographs as a Means of Representing Cultural and Historical Production

Alex Jansen, Towson University, alexjansen3@gmail.com

My work focuses on the way that culture and meaning is constructed through the land and how photographs serve as a means of representing culture. I am specifically interested in the ways in which photographs capture and embody the intersection of culture and history within the land. My photographs individually analyze this relationship while at the same time being linked thematically and contextually. The photographs therefore also function together in investigating the production of archeological knowledge. My work visually depicts and analyzes the ways in which photographs can serve as a means of representing archeological works and spaces.

Mashing Up Past and Present to Construct a Sense of Place

Ruth Tringham, University of California, Berkeley,tringham@berkeley.edu

I have become interested in the seduction of merging (mashing) images of present places with images —either real photographs or their illusions —of the past. Similar composites have been created by Sergei Larenkov, the Museum of London Streetmuseum iPhone app, and the Flickr group “Looking into the Past”. I believe that such mashups can provide a powerful inspiration for the construction of place, especially when they involve people and events as well as landscape and architecture. I am creating mashup photographs, not of traditional cityscapes and events, but of archaeological events and places.

Tintype Portraits – Objects of Self-Imagination

Heather Law, University of California, Berkeley, heather.law@berkeley.edu

For this session I’ll be presenting an assemblage of late 19th and early 20th century tintypes in order to initiate a discussion of the role of portraits as both objects employed in the construction of self, and as artifacts that might contribute to conversations of materiality and personhood in archaeological contexts.  The tintype, as the first affordable form of portraiture available to middle class Americans, has the potential to illustrate diverse processes of self imagination made possible by the novelty of photographs as objects of self representation.

History Making and Memory Keeping: Photographs as Artifacts of Black Family History

Annelise Morris, University of California, Berkeley, aemorris@berkeley.edu

Founded in the late 18th century by free black pioneers and occupied continuously ever since, my family’s ancestral homestead is also the archaeological site I will begin excavating for my dissertation.  With generations of family portraits and photographs available, I’m interested in exploring how photographs are used to create site histories and, similarly, their role in the memorialization of the black experience.  For this session, I’ll present a sample of these photographic artifacts discussing their unique visual access to lived experiences of an archaeological site, as well as their ability to represent changing articulations of the self and the family.

Nostalgic, Personal, Neglected, Treasured, Rejected: The Other Photography in Archaeology

Colleen Morgan, University of California, Berkeley, clmorgan@berkeley.edu

Our record of archaeological uncertainty is becoming dazzlingly clear; professional-quality digital SLR cameras producing high-dynamic range imaging are becoming the norm on archaeological projects and our photographic archives, once highly-curated collections of “scientific,” carefully set-up shots, have exploded in size and diversified in content accordingly. Along with this extraordinary, high-tech verisimilitude runs a counter-narrative—photography on sites performed by students, workmen, professionals, and tourists using their cellphones.   In a session focused on exploring the work that archaeological photography does, I will investigate the hazy, inaccurate, personal, and extra-archival qualities of the archaeological snapshot.