Robert Rohe

I encountered Rob’s photography via his Day of Archaeology blog post. Rob’s work is all about the gritty reality of life on site, this grittiness is expressed metaphorically through the graininess of his black and white photography. The style is typically “street”, conveying a sense of activity and movement, whilst the technique (35mm self developed black and white film) is all about a punky, do it yourself feel. The negative scans are dusty and scratched as if having just emerged from some archaeological process. The result is a growing collection of unusual documentation of the places and people that Rob encounters in his work.

This is Rob’s statement about his work:

The photos collected here were taken over the course of late 2011 and early 2012 at the East St. Louis Mound Complex. I’ve found that archaeologists document the archaeology quite well; but our documentation of the people doing the work is a bit lackluster. When a dig is done the only names really remembered are the authors of the reports.

We’d been pressed to take more crew shots while documenting the features and artifacts in the field, but these crew shots would ultimately be hastily set-up, “don’t look posed – look like you’re working” type shots. I was given permission by our project director, Dr. Thomas Emerson, to carry my camera on site and take street photography style shots (typically personal cameras and photo taking is prohibited at the site). I’m looking for faces when I’m shooting; I’m looking for people doing the work or being somehow engaged in the work.

Since my photography is primarily black and white I decided I would develop at home. I’d been hesitant to venture into this as I was of an understanding that developing chemicals were quite hazardous. Also, I wanted to attempt to be more eco-friendly. In my search for a less caustic chemical I found a recipe for Caffenol. It called for washing soda (not baking soda), instant coffee (the cheaper the better), and vitamin c/ascorbic acid. I still needed to use fix, but I felt good about minimizing the chemical use. After some experimenting I found the right ingredient combination and developing time to get the negatives to look the way I wanted.

In the end, I would like to put together a coffee table book with the images I’ve gathered over the last two years in an attempt to try and mainstream archaeology in a positive manner. In light of shows like American Digger and Diggers, the field of archaeology could use a better representation of the job presented to the general public.

Robert Rohe has a degree in English literature/creative writing, a job in archaeology, and a penchant for taking photos of unsuspecting passersby. His interests in writing are primarily singer/songwriter oriented; his archaeological interests are primarily lithics and pre-historic tattoo practices; and his photographic interests are mainly social documentation in the vein of Garry Winogrand and Henry Cartier Bresson. To date he has only “shown” his photographs to gracious friends and family and on the wall above the closet door. He’s working on remedying that situation.

Rob’s Personal page:
The Illinois State Archaeological Survey:

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