These may be read as an accompaniment to Archaeography - the class
My overall outlook is a focus on the material practices of both archaeology and photography. Photography is not simply about photographic images, far from it. Just as archaeology is not about the past as it happened. Both photography and archaeology are about relationships, with instruments, events, pasts brought forward by a turn, a conjunction, an act of connecting traces of the past and present interests. Both photography and archaeology are primarily mediating, translating, transforming practices.
Here is a broader argument about the dynamic materiality of media - that we do better to understand media not so much now in terms of their (supposed) defining material form (paint, print, text, film, TV, sound) but as distinctive "modes of engagement".
Archaeologists work on what is left of the past. They are interested in sites and things. They conduct fieldwork and collect things as evidence.
So this is what, for me, connects archaeology and photography:
- a visual "sense of place" - this includes the idea of "landscape" as a way of looking and arranging things in place
- a fascination with the connection between place and event - "this happened here"
- a particular forensic attitude towards place - "at a scene of crime anything might be relevant"
- this forensic connection between place and event involves a task of distinguishing and sorting evidence from irrelevancy, what is significant from what is noise, "figure from ground" - photographs of sites and artifacts are sometimes used to represent or embody this kind of sorting of evidence, marking what is significant
- a strong connection is this documentary interest in "what comes after the event"
- which also connects with entropy, ruin, decay - "what becomes of what was" - metamorphic processes
- and it includes a question of "how to document materiality" - site, practice and thing
- "uncanny non-absence" - both photography and archaeology work through traces; they both deal in a past which is not so much over and done, no longer present, as uncannily not-absent - present in the traces
- both archaeology and photography thus deal in "displacement" as a fundamental feature of representation - the shift from past to present, the circulation of text and image beyond the findspot, beyond the site whence the photo was "taken", the re-location, citation, quotation of the image, document and account
- "is this me/us?" - there is a crucial component of identity and identification, of recognition in both photography and archaeology
- both archaeology and photography establish relationships - "modes of engagement" with the remains of the past
- "mis-en-scène" - the arrangement of things in place to fit the interest of inspection - is shared by photography and archaeology
- "sorting things out" - both archaeology and photography are often concerned with classification, choosing what goes with what, in sorting finds, or in choosing what photos to include in what album
Just as archaeologists actively work on the past (rather than passively discover it), photography is better thought as photo-work.
So I am especially interested in experiment with imaging, rather than abstract theory and critique. Project-based iteration - not theorizing, but working through the issues practically, materially, experimentally (and hence the notion behind my "meta"-media lab. Experiment in order to develop practical know-how, tacit knowledges (to be unpacked, yes).
Here are some features of photography that I work on:
- resolution - blur, focus, grain, noise, pixelation, file size, lens design and camera format - in establishing certain kinds of relationship with site, thing and the past, in managing signal and noise, figure and ground
- perspective, singularities and vanishing points - establishing viewpoints in the relationships between past, present and trace
- the ineffable and irreducible materiality of place and artifact in the archaeological relation between past and present
- the materiality of photowork in the context of the materialities of media in general - the grain of paper, the refractive qualities of optical glass, the patina of inscribed stone,
- the circulation of media forms and instruments - the way photographs let us take the field to the lab to the publication - the nature and contexts of these mediating/connecting devices, forms and practices
- time series and image assemblages - unpacking the actuality of photography and archaeology (actuality defined as the temporality of juxtaposed presents, the return of what is no longer the same) - and the multiplicity of series and assemblage in relation to the singularity of perspective vanishing point
- modes of engagement between past and present - tied to the instruments of photowork - looking through viewfinder, turning the pages of a photo journal, clicking through the backlit images of a photoblog, standing back from a large format high resolution photograph, handling traditional fibre-based photographic prints, catching the mirror surface of a daguerreotype in the light, images viewed alongside text ...
- modes of engagement in connection with photowork and the uses of photography more generally - taking equipment in the field, finding vantage points, posing figures, mis-en-scène, studio lighting ...
- the auteur and accident - selecting, framing and arranging, automatic image making, scanning, found photos, video-grabs and other re-mediated forms
- the photograph and its relation to other media - sound, text, video.
Why do I experiment with photography?
What is the point?
- To develop the critique of ideological forms - particularly landscape, other orthodox documentary means applied to place and collections, the separation of object photographed and representation, even the very notion of an artifact as some thing that can be appreciated in isolation.
- So that we can develop richer and more reflective archaeological and photographic practices.
- Practice is essential. Abstract critique and arguments are not enough. Even words have an irreducible materiality of form and location - the echo in a hall, ink on manuscript ... . We have to practice different modes of engagement to understand the tacit knowledges that are, a posteriori, difficult to articulate - hence again a Metamedia - as I have called my lab in Stanford Archaeology Center.
- In all, I think we need to develop new media forms and artifacts ...
a new archaeological poetics
The archaeological imagination