Pictures of archaeological sites tell any number of stories. These pictures can mark excavations and can document discoveries. They can be formal affairs, created with pomp and circumstance, but they can also catch candid, informal moments. Most significantly, they contextualize a discipline fundamentally built on context, itself.
Each picture of an archaeological site, however, conveys a certain point of view. Each picture creates a dialog between the site and the viewer. Shots of a neatly cleaned feature without any archaeologist in the frame give the viewer a clinical detachment from the site and its artifacts. Landscape scenes, with a distanced focal point, set a longue duree perspective, where the relationship between the site and its surrounding environs stretch across the picture.
In a very niche historical trend, early twentieth-century stereoscopic photographs of archaeological sites provided a different type of viewing experience. The popularity of the stereoscope and stereopticon at the end of the nineteenth-beginning of the twentieth centuries meant that Classical sites – like Homer’s Troy or ancient Samaria – were accessible to non-expert audiences. The stereo cards served as emissaries of tourism and teaching. Literally and figuratively, stereoscopic cards brought the site closer within the viewer’s perspective.
There’s a meta-materiality to archaeology’s material record and even a materiality to its methodology. Philosopher-anthropologists like Emile Durkheim and Claude Levi-Strauss would argue that these objects are integral parts of the material manifestations of one culture of studying other cultures. These pictures have their own narrative and this narrative is another stratigraphic layer of meaning superimposed on the sites.
Durkheim, Emile. Rules of Sociological Method. New York: Free Press, 1982.
Levi-Strauss, Claude. Structural Anthropology. New Ed edition. New York: Basic Books, 1974.