Archaeological Photography, the Uncanny Valley, and Lomography

Experimental photography in archaeology is a fascinating and ever-expanding genre.  Fotis Ifantidis’ Visualizing Neolithic has been a source of constant inspiration for reimagining what is usually a very proscribed and ritualized methodology for documenting archaeological sites.  In the Experience, modes of engagement, archaeology session, Sara Perry’s Fractured Media presentation showed some of her own experiments–hopefully she’ll share them online at some point.

Photo by flickr user iessi.

Some of the innovation has been driven by technology, such as the growing prevalence of High Dynamic Range photography.  I find HDR photography uncanny at best, and downright creepy at worst.  Computer screens have a limited dynamic range, leading to problems with tone mapping.  Still, until the display issues are solved, HDR veers into the uncanny valley, where the verisimilitude of the image causes a disruptive response.

Photo by Tsim Schneider

On the other end of the spectrum is lomography, which employs low-quality toy cameras for an intentionally “bad” photograph that is blurry, off-color with light leaks.  These photos are more atmospheric but obviously not as accurate.  They contribute to an aesthetic of decay that compliments the subject.  HDR is too precious to me, too bejewelled and fantastic.  Lomography represents a more “accurate” view of the past in that it is hazy, hard to discern, never quite all there.  I’d like a chance to play with my Diana camera, but the toy cameras are actually much more difficult to handle–they’re finicky, analog, and I haven’t finished my first roll to check where the light leaks are.  Taking photos with a Lomo camera is a lot more risky and most attempts are not likely to turn out, something that is not acceptable for scientific documentation.  Still, it might be interesting to supplement other archaeological documentation with a slightly hazier view of the past.

Author: colleenmorgan

Dr. Colleen Morgan (ORCID 0000-0001-6907-5535) is the Lecturer in Digital Archaeology and Heritage in the Department of Archaeology at the University of York. She conducts research on digital media and archaeology, with a special focus on embodiment, avatars, genetics and bioarchaeology. She is interested in building archaeological narratives with emerging technology, including photography, video, mobile and locative devices. Through archaeological making she explores past lifeways and our current understanding of heritage, especially regarding issues of authority, authenticity, and identity.

9 thoughts on “Archaeological Photography, the Uncanny Valley, and Lomography”

  1. HDR can be really cool when it’s something like a shot of Tokyo at night. When you try to photograph natural or ancient man-made things with it, it just comes out looking… kind of cheesy, like bad 80s airbrush art.

  2. Yes, props to Tsim. I always go back and forth with blog citation strategies–the image links to his original image, so do I need to also write his name? I haven’t decided yet.

  3. Just came across this… I agree that analog creates a mood or feeling that is particularly amenable to archaeological remains.

    Just one nit-picky suggestion: lomography is a company rather than a technique. Perhaps lo-fi or something along those lines would be a more fitting description.

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