3. Digital Photography in Archaeology: Rupture or Continuation?

Just as archaeologists were grappling with increased attention and criticism directed toward archaeological visual media, photography was undergoing the transition to digital. In the last decade, archaeologists have overwhelmingly adopted digital photography. Since digital cameras first appeared on archaeological sites, great improvements to the technology have taken place in terms of resolution, file size, and cost. While a few museum archives still require slides or negatives for their permanent records, archival standards are also shifting to favour digital records (Wheatley 2011). In addition to improvements in the technological aspects of digital photography, people have learned to use digital cameras with better results and with greater ease than analog photography, through the simple mechanism of instant feedback on an LCD screen when using a digital camera. Many archaeologists have their own digital cameras or smart phones, and while they may not be employed as official site photographers, they often take photographs during archaeological excavations that can correspond to Bateman's (2005) categories of documentary and personal photography or, increasingly, to a third category of archaeological photographers, 'photography that is between artwork and visual ethnographic commentary' (Hamilakis et al. 2009, 289).

While the transition from analog to digital photography within archaeology seems straightforward in relation to archaeological site photography, I have found it to be considerably more complex (see also Bateman 2000). A better understanding of the surrounding theory within visual studies situates the subsequent study of photography over time at Çatalhöyük and provides several points of consideration for future practice. As outlined by Mitchell (1992), the materiality of digital photography differs from analog photography, a difference 'grounded in fundamental physical characteristics that have logical and cultural consequences' (Mitchell 1992, 4). This materiality manifests itself in multiple ways; Mitchell cites the photograph as being 'an analog representation of the differentiation of space in a scene: it varies continuously, both spatially and tonally' whereas digital photographs describe 'smooth curves and continuous gradients' by discrete pixels (1992, 4-5). While the technology of digital photography is rapidly improving, the images are still reproduced by a 'two-dimensional array of integers' that 'can be stored in computer memory, transmitted electronically, and interpreted by various devices to produce displays and printed images' (1992, 5).

It is important to note that this difference does not negate the materiality of the digital photograph; digital media is often seen in contrast to the material world; while the material world 'carries weight – aura, evidence, the passage of time...authority, knowledge, and privilege', digital media is characterised as 'immediate, surface, temporary, modern, popular, and democratic' (Witcomb 2007, 35). This misconception of the immateriality of digital media is reified in the prevalence of 'cloud-computing', wherein information is not stored on a local device, but accessed and manipulated over the Internet. This vision of invisible computing was disrupted by Connie Zhou, who photographed the massive interiors of Google data centres, filled with blue lights, tubes, wires and servers that dwarfed the humans that stood near them for scale.

Mitchell also points out that 'continuous spatial and tonal variation of analog pictures is not exactly replicable so such images cannot be transmitted or copied without degradation' while digital photographs can be reproduced exactly – 'a digital copy is not a debased descendent but is absolutely indistinguishable from the original' (1992, 6). The changing morphology of the digital camera is also a consideration in the materiality of digital photography, as cameras are both getting smaller and incorporated within objects that previously did not have cameras, such as cellphones. Analog photography also differs from digital photography in the relative mutability of the digital image. While there have been remixes and montages performed with analog photography, changing digital photographs is easily performed on a computer, or in some cases, on the camera itself (Mitchell 1992, 7).

Digital photography also dissolves boundaries, both between media (Lipkin 2005, 10) and between people, between the photographer and photographed. For example, the ability to preview images on the camera's LCD screen introduced three elements into the process of photography. First, the instant feedback available to the photographer allowed for corrections and the ability to change the photograph, in essence teaching the photographer how to take better photographs. Secondly, the LCD screen allows for co-authorship of photographs, the person behind the camera and the person in front of the camera can discuss the photograph and decide to keep it, re-take the photograph, and/or delete the photograph entirely. It is considered polite to offer to show the subject of the photograph the image on the LCD screen for their approval, creating a social contract between the co-authors of the photograph. At this time the fate of the photograph can also be decided, as the photographed person can conditionally accept the photograph, yet ask for it not to be shared online. Finally, the LCD screen can serve as a way to show photographs to other audiences later on, an echo of the earlier method of sharing digital photography by assembling around a computer screen, yet more mobile – perhaps recalling the passing around of a traditional photo album. Boundaries of subjectivity are transformed by the ability to co-author photographs.

Though there are clear differences, Lister disputes an easy categorisation of the changes that digital technology has brought to analog photography. Instead of a dramatic impact 'of one singular and monolithic technology on another' he frames the changes as a reconfiguration of existing modes of communication, not denying change, but 'seek(ing) its dimensions in the untidiness and complexity of the lived rather than in rapidly conceived and overly abstract schemas of technological revolution' (Lister 1995, 7). Understanding the changes that the move from analog to digital photography brought to archaeology must be seen in this way; an untidy, complex practice within a larger visual context.

Informed by her intensive fieldwork among users of digital photography, Van House (2011) outlines 'what people do differently with digital technologies' that show a distinct progression in understanding compared to Mitchell's earlier comparison of analog and digital photography. She finds that as a result of digital photography there are 'better images, more images, more varied, and more often', that 'while people still make traditional kinds of images, what is considered photo-worthy has expanded to include the everyday' (Van House 2011, 127). Secondly, there are 'shifting notions of privacy and ownership' in which boundaries imposed by the film-and-paper materiality of analog photography are now more liquid, allowing both open, easy sharing and the loss of control of ownership by professional photographers and artists (2011, 128). Finally, digital photography allows for a 'large but fragile archive' (2011, 128). While a growing number of photographs are taken with digital cameras, the digital files of these photographs do not preserve as well as photographs taken with film cameras. This latter point has been of great concern to archaeologists and archivists who wish to prolong the usability of archaeological archives. Identifying these changes in practice and materiality as we move from analog to digital photography in archaeology produces interesting permutations on these themes.

Just as some of the earliest analog photographs represented archaeological objects, Ritchen (2009) cites a 1982 National Geographic photograph of the pyramids in Giza as marking the 'date when the digital era came to photography' (2009, 27). The staff of National Geographic 'electronically moved a section of the photograph depicting one of the pyramids to a position partially behind another pyramid, rather than next to it' (2009, 27). The scene, as Ritchen notes, is 'an already romanticized version' that excludes 'the garbage, tourist buses, and souvenir hawkers' (2009, 27). Rosler wonders if moving the pyramids, 'a symbol of immutability and control' is 'betraying history' by 'asserting the easy domination of our civilization over all times and all places' (Rosler 1991, 55). The editor of National Geographic characterised the edit as a 'retroactive repositioning of the photographer a few feet to one side so as to get another point of view' (Ritchen 2009, 27).

While Ritchen describes National Geographic's retroactive repositioning as 'time travel' (2009, 28), archaeologists could understand this in alternate ways – archaeologists who have been relying on the apparent objectivity of photography to record architecture and excavations would identify this as falsification of the archaeological record, while other archaeologists may see it more as a remix, provided this repositioning was performed reflexively and transparently (Tringham 2009). The former conceptualisation of photography as an objective record of reality and the current ease of manipulating digital photographs led some theorists to become interested in the 'loss of the real' or the so called 'death of photography' (Lister 1995, 1). With nearly two decades of perspective it is easy to dismiss these claims, as the use of the digital image as evidence has persisted and the 'low-resolution, pixelated appearance of early camera phone photographs and video clips is now an accepted part of the syntax of truthful and authentic reportage' (Rubinstein and Sluis 2008, 11).

Archaeologists regularly 'photoshop' or modify archaeological photographs, but primarily in a transparent fashion. It is regular practice to substitute digitally created scales for those originally photographed with artefacts. This is done to clean up the images, especially if there were bad lighting conditions prevailed during the initial photography of the artefact. Still, relatively few archaeologists are comfortable with radical remediation of their chosen subjects, though technology allows for easy photo manipulation and enhancement. There is no current policy in academic or professional archaeology regarding the alteration of photographs. While the 'death of photography' may have been an overstatement, the death of the belief in photographic verisimilitude may be more accurate.

After the initial panic over the death of the real and the dawning of a 'post-photographic era' (Lister 2004, 304) there was a rapid shift in theoretical orientation to confront the ubiquity of the photograph in Western life (Rubinstein and Sluis 2008). Rubinstein and Sluis characterise this shift from relatively stand-alone digital photography to the networked image. The networked image, that is, the 'merging of photography with the Internet' has changed the production, distribution, consumption, and storage of images (Rubinstein and Sluis 2008, 9). Even after the introduction of digital photography and image manipulation to a consumer market, 'the promise of immediacy that digital photography offered was frustrated by unsuitable methods for instant image sharing' (2008, 12). The expensive bandwidth and slow modems limited sharing, as did low capacities for email in-boxes – most of the sharing was still done by gathering around the computer screen (2008, 12). As the Internet developed and the ability to share increased, the volume of photographs taken and curated by digital camera owners grew exponentially (Van House 2011, 128). This could be taken as another instance of archaeologists 'drowning in data', wherein British contracting units were struggling with data management and under the threat of losing good data as we 'drown in the sheer volume of the bad' (Backhouse 2006, 49).

Considerations of archaeological photographic practice must engage with the multiplicity of the digital medium and the attending affordances of rapidly shifting technology. Archaeological photography can encompass aerial/kite photography, structure from motion, photogrammetry, RTI, partial and full panoramic photographs, satellite imagery, gigapan, drone photography, time lapse photography, and 3D photographic scanning. Each technology has benefits and limitations; a full assessment of each of these techniques is outside the purview of this article. Though there have been changes in technology, archaeologists still take very formulaic photographs of artefacts, features and buildings. While digital technology allows for more of these photographs to be taken, most archaeologists still do not experiment within the parameters of archival photography (but see Ifantidis 2013; Hamilakis et al. 2009; Morgan 2012; Shanks 1997). This is unsurprising, as clear, well-lit, 'clean' photographs, or a 'record shot' are still considered a necessary standard in archaeological recording. Though these formulaic photographs of an artefact or a feature usually comprise the majority of the archaeological photographic record, the implications of digital media and shifting perceptions of archaeological labour are more discernable in 'working' shots that contain people.

Understanding the shift from analog to digital photography in the larger theoretical context of visual and new media studies allows us to meaningfully situate archaeological photography as metamedia. Metamedia can be conceived as a media ecology of 'larger personal communication that will keep appointments, make calls, take visual notes, check calendars, order from restaurants, find out about sales in neighbouring stores, check blood pressure, and tune in to television, radio and personal playlists' (Ritchin 2009, 145). As we venture into the 'post-digital' in archaeology, we must understand archaeological photography, not simply as a separate methodology, but as part of a network of personal and professional digital practice (Morgan in press).


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