The Function of Archaeological Photography

Photography is one of many techniques that archaeologists use to record evidence of the past as they excavate. On the one hand, this means that the majority of photographs taken at an archaeological site are intended to be objective and informative and could even be seen as boring. On the other hand, these photographs can be fascinating because they provide us with unique insights into what may be beneath our feet all across the city.

The records produced during an excavation provide valuable information for archaeologists in the future and it is important for them to accurately represent the sites or features in question. However, this doesn’t mean that archaeological photographers don’t respond artistically to their subjects. 

These functional photographs certainly have their own aesthetic quality, for example through the textures and colours created by the cameras and films used. The arrangements of shapes and different levels formed by the deeply-buried waterlogged timbers lead to some interesting, rather abstract compositions. The inclusion of mundane items such as a wheelbarrow or ranging rod reminds us how the photographer is responding to the activity going on around them and recording being part of an archaeological team as they reveal evidence of York’s past. 

To stop the wheelbarrows sinking into the mud they had to run on planks, but pushing a barrow along a wet plank while wearing muddy wellies is a lot harder than you think. The best workout you could have.

-Jane McComish - YAT Project Officer 
Next: Changing Attitudes and Practices