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current archaeology

Archaeologists have no Soul

Archaeologists are lousy photographers. Partly this is a technical matter, for the cult of the 35mm colour slide has been disastrous. There is a widespread fallacy that the fuzzy, out-of-focus slide that survives on the screen, can somehow be translated into a sharp brilliant black-andwhite print for reproduction. It is true that in the hands of the expert, a 35mm camera can produce a good black-andwhite print. Al l you need is a top quality lens, a high quality film, an ultra-fine grain developer, scrupulous care to prevent dust and scratching, and the utmost skill in enlarging. Cheap cameras or commercial processing merely produce what can be most kindly described as a grey sludge. Moral: if you are not an expert, use a big format.

No. 41 for NOVEMBER 1973 Vol. IV. No. 6 Published April, 1974 Edited by Andrew & Wendy Selkirk, 9 Nassington Road, London NW3 2TX, Tel. 01-435 7517

Printed in Great Britain by Maund and Irvine Limited Brook Street, Tring, Herts. 14th March, 1974 (8,000)



But even worse than the technical quality is the problem of aesthetics. We always want 'Current Archaeology' to be beautiful, in the way that the National Geographic Magazine, or Country Life is beautiful. But we are continually driven to despair by the photographs archaeologists produce. Archaeologists, it appears, are born without that part of the anatomy known as a soul. They take innumerable photos of postholes, but they never think of lifting their eyes up to the horizon to see what sort of place they are in.

They are entirely unaware of the elementary rules of pictorial composition, and the idea that a photo can be beautiful as well as informative is regarded wit h outraged horror. They never ask: "Ho w can I photograph this site in a way that wil l explain i t to those not present? How can I give an idea of the scale of the structures? Or show how it lies in the landscape? How can I give the 'feel' of the excavation? Was it neat and tidy trenches in a DoE enclosure? Was there a big bulldozer impending? Was it very, very muddy, a triumph of mind over matter?"

Yet these matters are important. As Alan Sorrell writes in this issue, i t is now being openly declared that reconstruction is the final part of the excavation. In Russia the archaeologist who excavates a site is also responsible for laying out the museum exhibit afterwards, an idea which we might well copy. It is not enough to write a report for the expert: the past belongs to Everyman, and the archaeologist must present it in a way that Everyman can understand. We therefore welcome the announcement on p. 189 that the Royal Photographic Society is to set up an archaeological section, and we hope that many archaeologists wil l join. And if, by any chance, the society can persuade archaeologists that photography is an art and that art is something to be welcomed and not despised, then we wil l be the first to cheer.

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