Open Dialogs in Archaeological Photography

Session Proposal by Heather Law, PhD Student, UC Berkeley
Confirmed Discussant: Dr. Ruth Tringham

In a discipline that has yet to master the balance between the subject and the object; the human and the 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 convey meaning.  Among other things, photographs can remember, forget, idealize, anesthetize, and democratize (Benjamin 1936; Barthes 1966; Sontag 1977); yet archaeologists have just begun to question the authority, ambiguities and tensions that lie within the photographs we use in our work.  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 does archaeological photography “do”?  How might we rethink or renew the practice?

I would like to invite archaeological photographers to participate in a uniquely formatted session, designed to initiate a dialog between fellow participants and their work.  Each participant will submit a cohesive body of work either digitally or in print, along with a short (400 words or less) statement of intent explaining their position as a photographer and the goals of their work.  These submissions will be displayed in the Ryder-Worth Gallery for the duration of the conference.  During the assigned session, participants will introduce their work by presenting their prepared statement, after which discussants will lead the group in a short (10-15 min) discussion about the work and its potential for dialog with other works in the session.

Here are some of the specific guidelines:

·         Participants will be asked to submit a title for their submission along with a short bio detailing their experience and interest in photography and archaeology for inclusion in the conference program.

·         The size of the photographs will not be restricted, but it will be asked that they be a cohesive group in some regard and that you try to keep your submission to under 10 pcs.

·         The participants will be asked to send a copy of the statement of intent and copies (either digital or in print) of the photographs to the discussants two weeks prior to the scheduled session.

·         The display of the work, i.e. in print or digitally, and the presentation, i.e. matting and the aesthetics of arrangement will be left to the discretion of the participants.  Each participant will be responsible for hanging and/or setting up their work in the Ryder Worth Gallery at beginning of the conference and taking it down at the end of the conference.

One of my fellow UC Berkeley grads is running a session on Archaeological Photography for TAG 2011 in Berkeley. I’ll have some photos in the show–I’ll need to figure out which ones! She invites wider participation–contact her directly if you are interested.

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.

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