Charlotte Young

Department: Classics & Ancient History
Discipline: Classics and Ancient History

Project Summary

“The camera is an awful liar.”

Mortimer Wheeler (1954)

The aim of this project is to examine photographic archives of archaeological sites through various lenses. To what extent do we know the past? How do archaeological photographs shape our knowledge of the past? Does the form of an archaeological site photograph influence our preconceptions of archaeology as a discipline? The purpose of this chapter is an attempt to reconstruct the historical thinking in archaeological photography from a particular historical perspective: from the 1950s to the 1970s. Thorough investigation of archaeological photographic evidence during this period shows that the relationship between photography as a medium and archaeology as a discipline is a didactic and dialectic one. The aim of this investigation is to understand how the forms of archaeological site photographs were influenced by the disciplines of archaeology, photography and art in the mid-twentieth century. In the 1950s and 1960s, British archaeologists produced specific publications on the use and employment of photography in archaeology. Analysis of these publications show an attempt by various archaeologists to professionalize or standardize the techniques employed in archaeological photography. This “professionalization” of archaeological photography created a particular visual aesthetic for the presentation of archaeological materials. This chapter will explore the extent to which the developments in archaeological photography in the mid-twentieth century reflect the shifts in attitudes by British and American archaeologists, who criticised the “antiquarian” methods of archaeology and instead promoted the application of scientific methods and theories for the creation of New Archaeology in the 1960s. The key aspects of archaeological site photography I will consider are: the relationships between photographs and hand-drawn plans and sections of excavations, the purpose of the photographs if not for publication, the representation of the “truthful” or “factual” in the medium of photography, and how the photograph acts as an agent in the photographic context rather than as a scientific or technical tool. The purpose of this study is to understand the role played by archaeological site photography in constructing and developing visual literacy and visual competency in the field of archaeology in the mid-twentieth century.

Supervisory Team

Dr Elena Isayev and Dr Martin Pitts, Lecturers in Classics & Ancient History at the University of Exeter.

Wider Research Interests

My wider research interest includes the study of Roman sites in North Africa and the Mediterranean, and the topographical nature of these sites. I am also very interested in the early archaeological photography of Ancient Egyptian sites and monuments.