Þóra Pétursdóttir and Ruin Memories at TAG Berkeley

Þóra Pétursdóttir will be representing the Ruin Memories project at the upcoming Theoretical Archaeology Group (TAG) in Berkeley, California. She will be taking part in a session entitled “Open Dialogues in Archaeological Photography”. The session abstract is as follows:

In a discipline that has yet to master the balance between the subject and the object; the human and the thing, photographs can inhabit uniquely limbic and potentially very powerful positions. Photographs provide a tangible middle ground between the observing subject and the observable object, and in so doing, reaffirm both the situatedness of human perspectives and the sovereignty of the material world.  Photography’s ability to transcend time and space imbues it with more power still, allowing it to trigger a spectrum of reactions in and effects upon its viewers, all of which both distort and convey meaning.  Among other things, photographs can remember, forget, idealize, anesthetize, and democratize (Benjamin 1936; Barthes 1966; Sontag 1977); yet archaeologists have just begun to question the authority, ambiguities and tensions that lie within the photographs we use in our work.  This session will attempt to discuss the past and potential roles of photography in archaeology.  From artifact photography to photographs as artifacts, from documentary photography to art photography (and everything that lies between); what does archaeological photography “do”?  How might we rethink or renew the practice?

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Þóra’s talk, “Topographic – photographic: Dialogues with the recent past,” will consider how photography’s contribution to archaeology is unquestioned. However, notwithstanding its importance in terms of both documentation and representation, it primarily holds a secondary value in archaeological discourses. The role of images is to be subservient to the text, to “illustrate” and support, and more active, experimental and “artistic” uses are often dismissed as subjective and unscientific. Using examples from my research on modern Icelandic ruins, I will challenge this hierarchy and show how photography enables alternative and genuine statements about the past and provides a means to make manifest the heterogeneous and ineffable that often is left out of scientific prose.

Discussants include Michael Shanks and Ruth Tringham. For more information see the session’s website.

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