Posted by Hilary McDonald
Archaeological photography is a diverse field. Much of it is a waiting game dependent on sun and wind to work with everyone’s schedules. The time must be right when a full excavation space can be cleared of tools (and people) and look its best. Sand is swept, shadows shift and the unit is ready to be presented.
By researching old archives – photographs from areas excavated 101 years ago, almost to the day, were matched up to some areas we had open this season. Images like these remind archaeologists that we aren’t necessarily seeing the architecture and features exactly the way the ancients left them; we are also seeing what previous archaeologists left behind in their own search. The archaeology of the archaeology, so to speak.
Old photographs reveal changes in imaging technologies where digital files have replaced glass plates and chemical developing. Software can now help piece together long expanses of walls and instantaneous electronic developing can reveal onscreen if millimeters of pottery inclusions are in focus or have to be redone.
There are a lot of moments on an excavation, however, that have nothing to do with the cleaning of trenches, the placing of meter sticks and the proper positioning of the north arrow. These moments are the ones about people. The excavation workmen had a goodbye party before they departed back to their homes across Egypt. Sodas, pastry, music and dancing all before 10 in the morning was the way to celebrate the conclusion of an interesting season; I was happy to have brought my camera to capture all the fun.
The other night, as the skies were clear at Giza, we gazed at the full moon through the survey Total Station set up on the patio like a telescope. Cameras are usually placed everywhere from mounts, microscopes, inside excavation trenches, on the ground level and high up above on precarious ladders to gather imagery for the field season. This time, there was no way to set the camera into the viewfinder to capture the big moon itself. But a spring night together with co-workers, chatting in every language taking turns to look up to the night sky set the scene for a memorable picture as our own season concludes.