Dave Webb

Dave Webb’s work presents deeply honest but sympathetic portraits of diggers alongside details of life on site and stark images of deserted site offices. Although the reality portrayed is often cold, dirty, harsh and otherwise inhospitable, the work is undoubtedly framed by a love of fieldwork and archaeology in general.

In some ways what appeals to me, on a purely personal level, in this work are the images of the 1990s. This is a time before fluorescent clothing became the norm on sites, shorts are incredibly short, army style boots are ubiquitous, clothing and equipment are subtly different from today and yet many aspects of life on site are the same. On a personal level the images capture an archaeology that was more amateur and in some ways more charming than the commercial archaeology of today.

The photographs fit within what we would recognise as documentary photography but they are also portraits, documentation and memoir. The scale of the project, a taste for collections and the time depth considered brings a distinctly archaeological flavour to the approach.

(c) Dave Webb

The following summary is from Dave’s Diggers Archive website:

“My aim … was to provide an alternative view of diggers to the back of the head normally reproduced in most archaeological texts. I should say at once that there are many good archaeological photographers out there and sometimes you do have to photograph the backs of peoples heads however this project is my attempt to redress the balance and show some of the ‘faces’ involved in archaeology. Since becoming interested in archaeology I have consumed quantities of archaeological literature. The publications sometimes contained superb examples of site photography and sometimes appalling ones but for a discipline that is concerned with documenting mans activities it seemed to have forgotten to record itself. There were always the odd shots of people poised over some interesting find, diggers being used as human scales or the occasional end of dig team shot but no real documentary work to record the people who do the excavation.

Initially I tried following in the traditional style of documentary work however I found that the resulting images tended to illustrate an event or mood rather than the diggers themselves. Whilst working on site at Essendon in 1993 I tried a change of approach to the subject and adopted a more portrait style of recording somewhat influenced by the work of August Sanders and others. Finding that the results matched my desired aim of ‘showing the face’ of archaeological diggers I decided to continue the project in this vein whenever possible.

At first I had no outlet for my work other than showing them to friends and colleagues but in 1996 Hedley Swain (see Mirroring Reality section of site) arranged for some of the images to appear in the IFA journal The Archaeologist (Winter 1996 no 27), this led to further use of some of the images by the IFA and an exhibition of a selection of the prints at the Bournemouth T.A.G conference in 1996. Since then I have been gradually accumulating more images until in 2002 I reached the point where I realised I would need to find some form of display if the images were to have any purpose, this decision led to the creation of my web site.”

To see more of Dave Webb’s photography please visit his website: The Diggers Archive.

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