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Dunstanburgh UK 1988

Archaeography - archaeological photography

How could an archaeologist not be fascinated by photography? Any medium?

After all, archaeology is all about turning what is left of the past into a report, an image, a story, an argument ...

Back at the beginning of my career I was site photographer for a number of projects in the north of England, working for the Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Tyne and Wear County units. Most of my projects since then have included a major component of graphical and photographic experiment.

Here are some evolving notes on archaeology and photography - also [link] and [link]. A key topic or field at the heart of my photowork are figure and ground relationships.


Introduction - Photoblogs




Figure and Ground

Sweden - megaliths

Photographs from a field season with Chris Tilley. August-September 1988. Here I was coming to terms with traditional landscape photography, particularly framing, tonality and photo surface, as well as the seductions of the aesthetic of the picturesque.

Gallery - [link]

An older working of the same series - [link]

Ghosts in the machine

Daguerreotypes. New York c1850. This is a series of found photos - re-photographed. The Daguerreotype is one of the earliest photographic forms, made available to the public in 1839. Images are formed in polished light sensitive silver plated on copper. They are unique one-off images and positive-negative - you have to catch the mirrored sufrace at the right angle for the very rich image to appear. It is estimated that more than two million Daguerreotypes were produced between 1840 and 1860. Most were posed portraits. Most of the names of the people in the Daguerreotypes that survive have been forgotten. This series is of heavily degraded, imperfect, neglected images, somewhat difficult to find, because no one wants them. I found a way of scanning them to recover the image that seemed lost. This is an ironic convergence of one of the first analogue techniques with digital processing.

As Fred Turner says - they now seem so close to being alive. These are uncanny images.

More information - Ghosts in the machine

Galleries - [link] and a second series of details - [link]

An older working of the first series - [link]

Figure and ground - experimental series - Ovnipan

The Ovnipan is an extraordinary pinhole camera made by Joachin Casado in Barcelona. These images provide new perspective on framing and subject focus. More information - Figure and ground - Ovnipan

Gallery - [link]

Epigraphy - Bamburgh UK

A series of details of gravestones in the churchyard of St. Aidan, Bamburgh, and St. Lawrence, Warkworth, Northumberland, just south of the English-Scottish border. These are explorations of the materiality of text and inscription. Archaeologists and antiquarians have long valued inscriptions as source material, but have tended to forget the intrinsic materiality of their epigraphic fascination.

See Borderlands - Tyne to Tweed and Chorography

Gallery - [link]

Northumberland coast and the borders, UK

Landscape and chorography. I began my archaeological career in the Scottish borders, Hadrian's Wall country, excavating Roman forts and medieval castles. I have returned to this archetypical borderland to explore, among other things, "chorography" - that long forgotten genre of writing about place. This series of images is about pushing photo optics to the limit in working on figure and ground, subject-background, focus-blur relationships. Chorography, in the likes of Camden and Aubrey, was a proto-landscape genre of antiquarian research that was happy to juxtapose descriptions of field monuments with artifacts, folklore, natural history, historiography and genealogy. I am fascinated with the relationships between these different components of a sense of place. See also deep-mapping.

See Borderlands - Tyne to Tweed and Chorography for more information.

Gallery - [link] - an early series from 2005.

Gallery - [link] - a compilation of photoworks from 2005-2008.

End of industry

Lindisfarne, Northumberland. More here on the chorography of this border region. The monastery on the island of Lindisfarne, near the royal court of Bamburgh, was the heart of Celtic Christianity between its founding, around 635, and the ninth century, when Viking raids forced abandonment. The ruins visible today are of the Norman foundation (the church modeled on Durham cathedral) and of a sixteenth century castle built of stone from the demolished priory and restored as a private holiday home in 1902. Pilgrimages still visit the island, and the village caters to tourists visiting the Priory and castle. There is virtually nothing remaining from when this was one the intellectual and political centers of northern Europe.

Around the harbor are the relics of what was a relatively prosperous fishing industry through to the mid twentieth century. There are only a handful of ports on the east coast of the UK that still have any remaining fishing industry.

See Borderlands - Tyne to Tweed and Chorography

These are photographs taken by Helen Shanks in 2005.

Gallery - [link]

An older working - [link]

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Site of the Bishops Palace, Lindisfarne UK, part of the project Figure and ground in Chorography

The locked door: San José 2004

Retitled 2007 - original title - The fourth room.

An abandoned apartment in San José. August 2004. Photographs of things left behind. I find this series very difficult and poignant. The apartment had been left unoccupied for nearly two years when I heard about it. The tenant had disappeared. The landlords were about to clear it when I spent a sweltering afternoon taking photographs. For me there are themes here of the non-absence of the tenant, the materiality of his presence; the intimacy of the things, but also indications of something deeply disturbed and disturbing.

In a piece called Three rooms I juxtaposed a sequence of evidences and archaeological remains of three rooms - a garrett in the east end of London in the late 1960s, a farmhouse bedroom in west Wales in the nineteenth century, and a dining room in the early city of Corinth in Greece. The juxtaposed fragments were textual mis-en-scènes - arrangements of items before the reader/viewer. The title "fourth room" marked the connection between the apartment in San José and these three archaeological rooms, as well as the common themes of the documentation of presence/absence, the topic of "what comes after ...".

More information - The locked door: San José 2004

Gallery - [link]

An older working of a similar series (in color) - [link]

A book in a room

for The Three Landscapes Project 2001 - [link]

An experiment of a site-specific text. Cliff McLucas produced a book for The Three Landscapes Project at Stanford that was designed to connect with where it is read. It did this not least because it is so large and requires careful opening and unfolding. The construction and composition, using graphical text, digitally manipulated imagery, complex digitally generated layout, and a combination of industrial materials and bookbinding processes foregrounds the reader/viewer's mode of engagement with this journal/diary, clouding the usually expected transparency of text. Its topic of investigating place again threw up the question of the adequacy of conventional genres for dealing with landscape and site (the subject of The Three Landscapes Project.

Gallery and video - [link]

A map on a wall

for The Three Landscapes Project 2001

An experiment in the graphics of deep-mapping. This large map (42 feet long, 8 feet high) was an experiment in how to graphically combine disparate sources, texts, images, materials, evidences connected with a place or geography - here the San Andreas fault in California. As with the "book in a room", the map was designed to raise the reader/viewer's awareness of the materiality of the event of encountering this representation of locale, in walking up and down the corridor where it was hung, in moving in to read detailed components, moving out to take in the whole.

Galleries and video - [link]

Tri Bywyd (Three lives)

A work of Theatre/Archaeology by Brith Gof 1995

Photographs of the performance. The work itself raised questions of how to encounter or engage with a place. Performance was prefered over Representation. The photographs and an associated work by Cliff McLucas ("Ten feet and three quarters of an inch of theater" in Nick Kaye's "Site Specific Art", Routledge 2000) explicitly raise the question of how to document live event.

More information - Tri Bywyd

Galleries - [link]

Figure and ground - experimental series

360 degree panoramas

More information and links to images - 360 degree panoramas

USS Hornet - media archaeology

A series dealing with the communications technology and instrumentation on the old US aircraft carrier, a museum now in Oakland.

Gallery - [link]

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Degraded Daguerreotype c 1850, part of the project Ghosts in the machine

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