Limits of artistry in archaeological recording – finds photography

We have already talked about how important recording in general is (https://arte-facts.co.uk/2019/09/24/why-bad-records-are-better-than-no-records/) and what difference it makes when the records are proper (https://arte-facts.co.uk/2019/09/16/are-pretty-archaeological-records-really-that-important).

Today we will discuss another significant topic related to finds recording and it is… (snare drums) the ARTISTRY.

While the archaeological illustration often falls victim to the tendency of oversimplifying (we will talk about it in another article), taking photographs may go in the opposite direction.

It is a kind of customary thought that creating an archaeological illustration, despite its being a technical drawing, requires not just certain skills and knowledge, but also a bit of talent. And as such, not everyone can do it (which is also disputable, but we will not go into it here).

In case of photography, however, it often seems to be the contrary. Photographing appears to be so easy. After all, anyone can press the button, right, what’s a big deal? (Well, apparently the 1888 Kodak’s advert ‘You Press the Button, We Do the Rest’ had a tremendous impact also on future generations.)

Jokes aside, the truth is that the difference is always clearly visible when comparing the results of a button pressing and creating a photograph. Photography also demands ability, technical knowledge and a particular perspective. And from the very beginning it combined the practical purpose of depicting a subject with the artistic vision of showing it in a unique way.

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Main photographers’ tool and skill have been and always will be the light and the art of operating it. But there are several other professional tricks and it is always tempting to ‘upgrade’ our photographs with setting up innovative arranging, for example, or using deeper contrast or filters in post-production. All what can make photographs more ‘artistic’ and give them that special twist, characteristic to the particular individual behind the lenses. We could very well risk a statement that all photographers want to see themselves as creators. Studio product and object photographers are not free from this feeling and that includes archaeological artefacts photographers.

However, photographing archaeological artefacts is subjected to an aim much higher than a common artistic expression. It is the actual archaeological record. Where lighting is not just important as it would be in some other photography manner serving aesthetic purposes, but simply crucial. How the chiaroscuro is managed may either expose or entirely hide some significant features what makes the photograph to be judged not according to the ‘pretty/not great’ criterion, but ‘valuable’ or ‘completely useless’. Vices of disagreement could be heard here, claiming that a photograph, even an archaeological one, is a piece of art and a photographer has the right to create it as they please. Especially that any information, possibly missing from the picture, would be present and visible on the drawing. This is not entirely true, though. Naturally, there are photographs on which shape of an artefact can be artistically fading into the black background or be hidden behind other elements of a hoard or grave goods set. And that is perfectly fine. Such pictures should be taken to give the viewer other perspective and to intrigue them. Although, they should always need to be treated as an ‘added value’, an extra illustration, not the actual record.

Archaeological photographers need to remember that artistry should not veil the data. The recording preserves the beauty of the past (even if it is just symbolic beauty). And at the same time it needs to show this beauty. At Arte-Facts we offer perfectly balanced, correct artefact recording. We bring out the ART and we stick to the FACTS.

Check our portfolio: https://arte-facts.co.uk/portfolio/

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