Last February Doug Bailey emailed me (and many others) to see if we’d participate in a unique experiment: he would mail us artifacts from the excavations that preceded the recent construction of San Francisco’s Trans Bay Transit Center that were deemed unworthy of archival. His prompt:
In accepting the invitation, you commit to repurpose (disassemble, take apart, grind up) the artefacts that you receive so that they become the raw materials with which you will make creative work. There are no other limitations, instructions, or guidelines, beyond the suggestion that the work you make should engage contemporary social or political issues and debates. Engagement may relate to San Francisco and its current energies (e.g., the tech revolution, disenfranchisement, home/houselessness). Engagement may flow from your personal reaction to your assemblage of artefacts, or to your own personal, professional, or local political experiences, desires, and frustrations.
A few months later, I received a box with some disintegrating leather inside. I put it on my desk and thought about it for a while. I’ve been teaching filmmaking to Master’s students for a couple of years now, but most of my time behind a camera has been spent making promotional videos for York in my publicity administrative role. I really wanted to engage creatively with film again and this was the perfect chance.
The Ineligible prompt also included the line:
Ineligible urges contributors not to think of the material as archaeological, as artefactual, or as historic.
Well, damn. So over the summer I put the shoe in peoples’ hands and filmed it. Though these people happen to be archaeologists, I think I was able to draw out different encounters with materiality, beauty, and our association/disassociation with the lives of our objects. To be honest, I think I failed in that part of the prompt, but these are the stories we wanted to tell.
I was prompted to write an artist statement, and I wrote this clumsy thing:
As an anarchist, a mother, an archaeologist, I’m deeply concerned with making kin through the investigation and care of objects, places, and people. Finding a politics of joy and intimacy, and building things together as a way to resist Empire. In this short film I gave an alienated object, a child’s shoe, to my kin, the caretakers of the discarded to understand and reanimate this object, even as it disintegrated in our hands.
I was delighted when it was selected to be shown at the Ineligible exhibition curated by Doug Bailey and Sara Navarro at the International Museum of Contemporary Sculpture in Santo Tirso, Portugal. The exhibition opens March 6, 2020.
Peter Jackson’s collaborative documentary, They Shall Not Grow Oldwas released for the centennial anniversary for the end of WWI. Using archival footage from the Imperial War Museum, Jackson and his legion of effects wizards stitched together a 99 minute long take on soldiers’ experience of the front in color, filling in frames to smooth out motion and adding a voice-over that was drawn from oral histories. Happily, miraculous restoration of archival footage was released the week before my “digital futures” lectures in Communicating Archaeology (second year undergrad) and Analysis and Visualisation (Master’s module). I switched up the syllabus (don’t tell teaching committee) and added the documentary.
The purpose of assigning the documentary was to incite discussion around three major points:
The creation of narratives with archival materials–whose story is being told and for whom? Who is being omitted and why? How is this similar to the ways we tell stories using archaeological remains?
What can we do with digital technologies to tell stories about the past and are these effective? Should we just leave it to the professionals, ie forming collaborations with Peter Jackson instead of trying to do it ourselves?
What are our responsibilities to the people that we are digitally resurrecting? As these technologies become more accessible, it is easier to use dead people in ways they have not imagined or authorized.
The students were up to the challenge, and we also discussed the “Wizard of Oz” moment when the soldiers arrive at the front and suddenly transform from ragged, black and white figures from the distant past to full-color, real people with faces and names. Archaeologists are familiar with this feeling of the past becoming more real to us through our multiple encounters with traces of the past, and Peter Jackson was able to bring that feeling to general audiences.
To accompany this discussion I also played this “making of” video:
The video shows the painstaking process involved in colorizing the footage, and the creation of the sound effects–my postgraduate students, deeply involved in creating multimedia interpretations of the past for their assessment, groaned in recognition. Peter Jackson’s description of retiming the footage, of the excitement of the filmmaker in the field as they cranked their camera and the unscientific way that they had to translate this irregularity was an excellent lesson on learning how to look for embedded meaning in media archives. Finally, will Jackson’s “restoration” of this film be seen as a new archival standard, sought after to meet our HD standards for the visual record?
They Shall Not Grow Old was not uncontroversial; this excellent discussion from Historian Alice Kelly highlights the film’s use of the propaganda magazine The War Illustrated to illustrate battle scenes. Kelly also rejects the word “documentary” for the description of this film, which I found a bit curious. From my experience in making interpretive media about the past, I wondered what her threshold was for authenticity in these narratives–was Ken Burns okay, even though his “animation” of still photography, (now a staple of documentary filmmaking) instills these photographs with a sense of urgency and life? If you let me film you for an hour or so, I could probably recut it to make you look incredible or despicable just through editing, not to mention using cutting edge technology:
They Shall Not Grow Old was timely and good to teach with and it was nice to be able to take advantage of very current popular media to discuss the use of technology to make interpretive media.
As part of my postdoc, I’ve been making short videos highlighting the research of the PhD fellows associated with EUROTAST. These are mixtures of footage that was shot previously, my own footage, and Creative Commons found footage.
They have been a challenge to make. Finding the proper visuals and music to accompany the incredibly sensitive research on genetics, identity and the difficult heritage of the Transatlantic Slave Trade has made the creative process much slower and considered than usual.
Still, I’m relatively pleased with how they’ve come out, considering they’re such a mixture of visual and audio resources.
These are two very different videos about crafting ceramics, yet they both capture the motion of highly-trained hands and the beauty of making.
The first video shows fine art pottery from Icheon, Korea–made on a potter’s wheel, all by men. The technique and attention to detail is astonishing, as they cut, pat, stamp, coax, and dab glaze into clay.
The second is from the British Museum, a collaborative ethnoarchaeological project conducted in Kerala, India. These potters are women, and the ceramics they make are standardized pots, each performing a specific role in the shaping of the pot. You are able to see the entire process, as the women stomp, bash, pat, smooth, and tend the pots.
One pot ends up on shelves in museum galleries, the other over a fire, filled with delicious curry.
I wasn’t sure what to expect. Sure, I knew the basic outlines of what a “Jam” should be in the tech/gaming world–everyone comes together to hack on a project together to see what kind of results you can get with very intense focus for a short amount of time–but how would that play out in the world of interpretation and heritage? I just knew that I was excited to finally have a chance to work on something with other visualizers, some of whom I’d known for years. We started out bright and early at 9:00, went through introductions, got an outline of a plan together, then went to York Cemetery to gather primary data…
Over the weekend I finished up the series of short videos for the upcoming Heritage Jam and I’m fairly pleased with them. I have a much larger video project coming up for EUROTAST, featuring the incredible work of the research fellows, and so it was a good way to get back into the video-making groove again.
Each of the videos is a challenge to the participants of the Heritage Jam, as outlined by Dr. Julie Rugg.
Challenge One: Dynamism
Challenge Two: Visibility
Challenge Three: Class
In each video Dr. Rugg identifies some interesting challenges for visual interpretation in cemeteries. I enjoyed learning about cemeteries from her as I edited the videos.
I’m never quite 100% satisfied with the videos that I make either, as there’s always more that can be done. When I teach filmmaking to archaeology students, I tell them that you can pretty much spend an infinite amount of time editing a video, making it as perfect as possible…but I have other projects, so finding “good enough” is not wholly satisfying, but does get the video out there for other people to view. If anything, all of this just makes me appreciate the professionals that much more!
Even if you aren’t participating in the Heritage Jam, the videos may make you look at cemeteries in a different way–they certainly did for me!
(PS: Try to watch them in HD if you have the bandwidth!)
Your powerpoint slides are probably okay, especially if you forbid anyone from taking photographs of your talk. The video of your excavations, that hilarious one that your intrepid students made that uses the popular song that you all sang while shoveling? Probably okay, as long as you never share it on YouTube. But to be able to publicize your efforts, and to share online with others, you must be cognizant of this great (and often unspoken) rule:
With great public archaeology, comes great responsibility…to copyright law.
“But I’m an educator! I’m not doing it for profit! I have only the very best of intentions!”
Sorry, folks. There are very strict laws about copyright in the US and the UK, even for the most angelic of researchers, teachers, and students. Did you know that in the UK you have to wait 70 years after the principal director, author of the screenplay, author of the dialogue, and composer of the music ALL DIE until you can use a movie without restrictions?** 70 freakin’ years. I know my artful multimedia museum display won’t wait that long. Are these laws sane, just, and better for innovation & society? No. But until the day that Lawrence Lessig rules the world, we are probably stuck with navigating copyright. Sure, you can fly the pirate flag, copy and distribute everything, but at least be aware you are doing it.
We could get into a horribly complex dissection of the disgusting entrails of copyright, but I’m going to assume that: 1) you don’t care about copyright law 2) BUT you’d like to keep your nose clean and 3) that you may actually care about contributing to the wider media discourse about archaeology. So let’s talk basic best practices.
There are a few varieties of CC licenses, and you can read about them in detail here, but I’ll quickly go over them:
Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY) This means that you are free to use, share, remix, as long as you attribute the original work. My favorite license, as it asks (okay, tells) you to attribute my work, but please use it as you like.
Creative Commons Attribution, Share Alike (CC-BY-SA) This means that you have to attribute the work, and that you have to share the work under the same Creative Commons license. Many people (including myself in the past) thought that this was a good idea so as to spread the CC around, but ultimately it limits the ways that your work can be used. Screw it, just use (CC – BY).
Creative Commons Attribution, No Derivatives (CC-BY-ND) This means that others can distribute the work but others can’t change it. This is a stupid license, don’t use it.
Creative Commons Attribution, Non Commercial (CC-BY-NC) This means that you must attribute the work, but you can’t use it commercially. A lot of educators use this one, but I try to avoid it. What about the professional archaeologists among us? They need media too.
Public Domain – Jackpot! This media has no known copyright restrictions. Most of the media labeled with this comes from our most worshipful friends, the enlightened librarians and archivists who have identified works that are in the public domain and then twisted the arm of their institution to digitize them and host them, for free. I love these people. With that in mind, it is kind to thank the institution. And buy your activist librarian/archivist friend a drink.
(added 30 July 2014)
No Rights Reserved (CC0) – As was rightly pointed out, I forgot CC0! Unlike the Public Domain license above, this is for folks who have made something recently and want to opt out of copyright protection altogether. It’s an amazing, gutsy license–I still like to keep my attribution attached. It’s probably one part wanting to respect intellectual lineage and one part ego-based.
2) CREATE – Once you know what the different licenses mean, you can start using CC media to create all your finest scholarly outreach. But where do I find such a thing?
You can also tweak your settings in Google Image Search to look for CC content.
I try to credit all of the photos actually in or near the photos, but if they’re in a movie, a list of credits at the end will suffice. I nearly fall out of my seat when I see an academic presentation that properly credits the authors of the media. It shows a commitment to authorship and multivocality as well as professionalism. Love your media makers. They make you.
3) SHARE – To me, using Creative Commons for sharing is at the very heart of public archaeology. You are explicitly sharing your academic or professional labor and giving permission to others to use it to build upon. Simple, but beautiful.
Flickr, Soundcloud, and Youtube all allow you to share your media under Creative Commons in a relatively easy fashion. The benefit to using “free” social media-based corporate hosting is that more people will see/use your content, and that it is better distributed to protect against catastrophic data loss. If you host it yourself, you can just put a CC license on the media webpage and share that way. Better yet, put the CC license in the object’s metadata and it will more likely stay intact. But don’t worry if that sounds too complicated.
Also, keywording your content makes it much easier for people to find and use. Happily, there is a pretty good guide on how to do this HERE. Sharing your excavation images online with good keywording can also save your bacon if you have massive data loss at 3AM on the way to your conference. whew.
Stu Eve and I talk briefly about some of the issues around Creative Commons and Open Access in our 2012 article HERE, but to be brief, archaeologists should use CC media by default, and adopt CC licensing whenever and wherever possible.
Do it because you want to stay within copyright laws. Do it because you want to show respect for fellow archaeologists and media makers. Do it because you want to make photos of archaeology available to everyone. Do it because you fear for the longevity of the archive. Do it because you had the worst time last week finding an example of a grave register to reuse in a short film. Do it because you hate stock photos of archaeologists with clean clothes and plastic whips.
Do it to put the past into the future.
* I realize that there is some complexity here with indigenous knowledge, and with sharing precise archaeological locations, but for simplicity, we’re going to side-step it for the moment.
** The UK law is changing as of October 2014. Hopefully for the better, but it’s generally for the worse.