4. Photographic Practice at Çatalhöyük

To understand changes over time in archaeological visualisation, I examined the photographic record from Çatalhöyük, a Neolithic site in central Turkey where archaeological excavations have occurred since the 1960s. James Mellaart investigated Çatalhöyük from 1958-1965, then Ian Hodder from 1993 to the current day. Recording strategies have changed considerably during the half-century of archaeological investigation at Çatalhöyük. Mellaart led rapid, large area excavations, employing teams of local men to dig while one or two specialists supervised. This was an excavation strategy that favoured discovery of elaborate wall paintings, architecture, and large artefacts. Under Hodder, archaeological investigation at the site involves a 'reflexive methodology' wherein archaeologists are instructed to interpret 'at the trowel's edge', constructing contextual meanings as they excavate (Hodder 1997) though how this specifically translates into practice has been contested (Farid 2015). Several teams of different nationalities and methodologies excavated parts of the site, and 'an impressive array of scientific techniques, digital technologies and analytical tools have been applied within a robust excavation and sampling framework' (Farid 2015, 59).

The strategies for creating the photographic record at Çatalhöyük have also changed over time, reflecting changes to the discipline as a whole. During the 1960s, site photography was performed by James and Arlette Mellaart, Ian Todd, and a few other visiting archaeologists. For the purposes of this study, I looked primarily at digital copies of the Todd photos taken in 1963. The cost and limitations of analog cameras affected the number of photographs taken, the framing of the photographs, and the conditions wherein photographs could be taken. While technological considerations are important, these do not account entirely for the changes in the visual depiction of Çatalhöyük. After Hodder reopened Çatalhöyük in 1993, several different photographic regimes were put into practice and then changed; this rapid turnover can be seen in the photographic archive.

In general, formal archaeological site photography incorporates several imaging technologies and a specialist, disciplined visual practice that is informed by the capabilities of these technologies and the historic standards of archaeological site photography. The visual practice employed during archaeological excavation is learned through experience and professionalisation (Goodwin 1994). This process of learning how to see archaeology, that is, minute differences in soil texture, colour, and composition is then translated into framing a photograph that displays information gleaned from this disciplined visual practice. In particular, excavation at Çatalhöyük requires a substantial investment in experienced archaeological seeing, as it has very complex stratigraphy and the changes in deposition can be extremely subtle. Even so, visual outputs of this professional vision are not necessarily collectively understood; particular photographs need written or verbal annotation to describe the motivation behind taking the photograph.

Generally, archaeological photographs are not always transparent in meaning upon later review, even to the archaeologist who took the photograph. In order to aid later interpretation, standard archaeological photos include a scale, an arrow indicating north, and sometimes a photoboard, on which is written the day, the locale, and sometimes the initials of the excavators. Photo registers are often required on site, with the metadata of the photograph written down to accompany the shot for later entry into a database. This technology is shifting as well, with increased digital-only site documentation (Berggren et al. 2015). There are several genres of formal archaeological site photography including overviews, architectural/artefact detail shots, process/excavation or 'working' shots, level/surface/context completion shots, and informal personal photography. Formal photographs are then downloaded, tagged with their metadata and sometimes catalogued in a database, while informal photographs are generally excluded from this archive. Informal archaeological photography was not included in this study, but has been discussed in other publications (Morgan in press).

Further complicating our analysis of archaeological photography at Çatalhöyük, different teams had different standards of professionalism. At the time of the initial study, the team directed by Shahina Farid employed professional archaeologists, while the other teams on site were mainly staffed by students with varying degrees of expertise (Farid 2015). Additionally, the professional archaeologists were also teaching students, and would encourage them to take record photographs during the course of excavation. To mitigate this inconsistency, I have focused on the photography produced by the Berkeley Archaeology at ÇatalHöyük (BACH) team, and later by Jason Quinlan. The BACH team consisted of students led by Ruth Tringham and Mirjana Stevanović; Ruth Tringham, Michael Ashley and Jason Quinlan took the majority of the BACH photographs and Quinlan would later become the photographer for the whole site. Quinlan would photograph the more difficult phase shots and detail shots, as well as photographing finds. This is an exception within archaeology, as many sites do not have the budget to employ a dedicated photographer. Most of the photographic recording on archaeological sites is performed by the archaeologists themselves. This has become more relevant in the last twenty years, as specialist photographers who do not also excavate or at least have no archaeological training are rare and fieldworkers are expected to incorporate photography into the process of excavation and documentation of the site.

Even with these inconsistencies, Çatalhöyük provides an excellent case study with a photographic record that spans both the change from analog to digital photography and a methodological change to post-processual archaeology, which incorporates a reflexive excavation strategy (Hodder 1997). Additionally, there is a large quantity of images available; by 2014, the Çatalhöyük photographic database held over 100,000 images (Quinlan and Morgan 2014). The site itself has been subject to intensive, repeated mediation and remediation by hundreds of academics and the changes made regarding current processes of digital documentation at the site have not been considered for this study (but see Berggren et al. 2015). This initial study of the Çatalhöyük archive took place in 2007, with a follow-up study conducted in 2014.

Table 1: Codes assigned to photographs from the Çatalhöyük archives
A Artefact shot Close-up photograph of artefact, generally isolated on blank background
E Excavation shot Photographs from any range of excavation process or results
P Personal shot Personal photographs
F Feature shot Photographs of non-moveable objects, such as wall paintings and hearths

To investigate this archive, I employed quantitative and qualitative methods developed in visual studies (Rose 2001; Pink 2001; van Leeuwen and Jewitt 2001). After an initial rapid review of the materials, I surveyed a stratified sample of the genres of archaeological photography to conduct a content analysis to categorise manifest components of images (Bell 2003). A content analysis seeks to identify commonalities between photographs to elicit comparative categories across datasets. These commonalities are then coded according to type (Table 1). Ideally for this study, additional researchers would have been available to code the photos, perhaps even a non-archaeologist who might have added insight to the process and test comparability, but this was not the case. Additionally, for the purposes of this study I did not examine 'personal' shots of extra-archaeological activity, though they are of deep interest to the social practice and knowledge production of archaeology (Bateman 2005). Likewise, I have not included an examination of archaeological photography within social media (but see Corley 2009; Morgan in press).

There was a small amount of overlap in these categories, as some of them are obviously co- constitutive, such as artefacts appearing within an excavation shot. After this initial classification, I predicted the following:

  1. These photos would reflect a change in technology – there would be more photos in general, and these photos would be better in quality than the older photos.
  2. These photos would reflect change in theoretical stance, i.e., the move toward post-processualism in archaeology.
Table 2: Photographs selected for examination, coded by subject
Photographer Year # Photo subject
Ian Todd 1963 20 Excavation process
Ian Todd 1963 20 Artefacts/features
BACH Team 2000 20 Excavation process
BACH Team 2000 20 Artefacts/features
Jason Quinlan 2006 20 Excavation process
Jason Quinlan 2006 20 Artefacts/features

In all, I coded 495 photos and added a simple description to each, then selected 120 of these to look at more closely (Table 2). The initial stratified sample included photographs taken in 1963, 2000 and 2006.

Table 3: Semiotic codes assigned to photographs from the Çatalhöyük archives
Social DistanceBehaviour
Letter Description Letter Description
N The photographer is within ~2 metres of the subject of the photograph C The subject of the photo makes eye contact with the photographer
M The photographer is within ~10 metres of the subject of the photograph NC The subject of the photo does not make eye contact with the photographer
F The photographer is greater than ~10 metres from the subject of the photograph X There is not a human subject in the photograph

After this initial content analysis, I added the codes 'social distance' and 'behaviour' to the photos (Table 3). These categories were devised by Kress and van Leeuwen (1996) for their visual analysis of the magazine Cleo. While they used six categories of social distance, ranging from intimate to public, I simplified their approach considerably to 'near', 'medium' and 'far' distances (Figure 2). The second principle drawn from Kress and van Leeuwen was the concept of 'behaviour', which addresses the gaze of the subject of the photograph. Describing their social, semiotic approach to the analysis of visual material, Jewitt and Oyama (2001) emphasise the importance of the point of view or azimuth of the photograph (looking up or down on the subject), the level of engagement with the photographer (eye contact), and the distance between the photographer and the subject as key components in bringing out 'hidden messages' in the materials. Again, I simplified the categories described to 'eye contact', 'no eye contact', and 'not applicable'. Even with these simplified categories and a limited sample, this method of inter-personal semiosis proved to be a powerful tool for the analysis of archaeological photographs.

Figure 2
Figure 2: Demonstration of coding strategy of photographs


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