Manifesto

This is the website for Archaeologists | Photographers the working title of a project to produce a book documenting the new visuality in archaeological photography. This project is about new perspectives and new directions in photography in archaeology. We aim to collect and document the work of archaeologists | photographers as well as
critics directly involved in this field.

The aim of the project is to produce a book that properly represents the new directions being explored today in photography and archaeology. As digital photography becomes increasingly ubiquitous, the boundaries of archaeological photopgrahpy both analogue and digital are being challenged. Archaeologists are experimenting with their unique professional perspective on a variety of subjects. Photography in archaeology is bolstered by a long history during which “few scientific fields have used photography as variously and experimentally as archaeology, and few have enjoyed such public enthusiasm mediated by this technology” (Banta et. al 1986:73). The birth of digital photography alongside developments in archaeological theory have encouraged bold new directions in visuality in archaeology.  In this collection we hope to capture and express the tremendous creativity and energy displayed by archaeologists | photographers.

Archaeology and photography, both considered projects and products of modernity, have extensively exchanged metaphorical weight throughout their complimentary histories.  As early as 1839, Dominique François Arago enthusiastically embraced photography as a means to accurately “copy the millions of hieroglyphics which cover even the exterior of the great monuments of Thebes, Memphis, Karnak” in a way that would “excell the works of the most accomplished painters, in fidelity of detail and true reproduction of the local atmosphere” (Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology., et al. 1986:73).  In describing Joseph Nicéphore Niepce’s first photograph, Graham Clarke declares it “not so much an image as an archaeological fragment” due to poor quality and representation (1997: 12).  Susan Sontag spells out this relationship, stating that “photographs are, of course, artifacts” (1977: 69).  They “turn the past into a consumable object” (68), by “slicing out this moment and freezing it” (15), “giv(ing) people an imaginary possession of a past that is unreal” (9).  John Berger expands on Sontag, acknowledging that “photographs are relics of the past, traces of what has happened” (1980: 61), but champions creating an “alternative photography” wherein photographs are contextualized, situated through social and political memory.  Roland Barthes further obscures the relationship between the photograph and the ‘reality’ of the past by stating that “the reading of the photograph is thus always historical” (1977: 28).   In this way, though archaeologists use photography as a transparent medium of recording, broader archaeological metaphor is used to highlight the difficulty of understanding the meaning of photography.  While the linkage between artifact and past meaning has been problematized extensively in archaeology, its apparently objective use of photography as a tool to represent scientific process has only recently been called into question.  Michael Shanks (1997) destabilizes the use of photographs as “transparent windows”, situating ‘photowork’ in a specific framework of cultural production within archaeology.

Whilst a broader canvas concerned with all visual media in archaeology would be a worthwhile project, the aim of this project to focus on photography should not be seen as a statement of the isolation of photography from other visual media, but rather a focusing on a medium that will provide a more dense and concise publication.

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