From Amateurs to Auteurs: In Defence of Authorship in Archaeological Visualisations

Posted on May 19, 2017


Should archaeology be more visual? An interesting session at TAG that we filmed TAG asked that question:

Session Abstract:

Archaeology borrows and adapts visualisation mediums and techniques from a range of artistic and creative practices including drawing, photography, film, gaming, digital animation and virtual reality. But do we take these visualisation practices as seriously as we do our scientific ones – or do we merely skim the surface of them, depriving ourselves of a deeper and more critical understanding of how the past is interpreted and understood? A key element of any art form, but arguably often side-lined in archaeology, is the visual author’s presence and ‘voice’. Following auteur theory, this house argues that the author’s voice in visual representations of archaeology deserves equal regard to that of the author’s voice in written archaeological works. Such a shift in values would necessitate archaeologists becoming more visually and technically literate in visual art-forms and industries in order to not only appreciate but meaningfully be able to critique and translate archaeological visualisations on a deeper level. Not only would this enhance the rights to the creators of archaeological visualisations (such as recognition, ownership and copyright), but it would also demand greater responsibility, transparency and accountability for the archaeological visualisations created.

This session invites practitioners of visual archaeologies and those who research visual representations of archaeology to critique and debate the above argument, interrogating the value and role of the author’s voice in visualising archaeology. We seek to include a range of visual forms and mediums, inclusive of but not limited to drawing, photography, video, film, gaming, digital animation, AR, VR and mixed-mediums. Archaeologists, artists, heritage professional, industry practitioners and those who straddle multiple roles are warmly welcome to submit. This session partners with TAG 2016’s art/digital/film exhibition ‘Sightations’, running on site throughout the TAG conference, and session speakers are warmly encouraged to display an example of their work in the exhibit. For more information on the exhibit please see Sightations’ call for contributors.

Grant Cox, Artasmedia and Kate Rogers, University of Southampton

100 years of auteur archaeologists Kate Rogers, University of Southampton

In discussions about archaeology’s representation in film and television some archaeologists have expressed a desire to “take back” their discipline from the media (eg. Cline 2008), but this view ignores the historical and current roles of archaeologists doubling as media creators and practitioners. In the film and television industries in particular, UK archaeologists have an impressive but little-acknowledged history of undertaking key roles as writers, presenters, producers and directors, in productions over the past 100 years. Paralleling the gradual professionalization of archaeology as a discipline over the 20th century is a comparable narrative of archaeologists developing from amateur to professional filmmakers in their own right and on their own terms, with distinct filmic voices and approaches to filmmaking. In this setting archaeologists have navigated and adapted their voices to changes in technologies, media laws, audience demographics, funding strategies, production and distribution structures and storytelling conventions. Arguably this form of authorship can at times be seen to be an auteur-style approach to film and television. This paper presents a selection of these historical archaeologist-auteur voices as a rebuttal to the notion that archaeologists need to ‘take back’ their discipline from the media, arguing that we have always been members of the media, with the rights and responsibilities of media practitioners. The question can then become this: if we have a filmic voice, or even an auteur’s voice, how should we use it?


“Archaeologists assemble!”: authorship as praxis in archaeological comics John G. Swogger, Freelance Archaeological Illustrator and Comic Book writer

Comics as a communication medium allows for multi-layered approaches to the presentation of archaeological interpretation, process and practice, giving a visual context to narrative, and an embedded explanatory framework to imagery. Such approaches permit visualisations of great individuality and variety, shaped by the specificities of creative practice. This variety is highly-valued by creators, but a lack of standardisation and uniformity can be justifiably critiqued as problematic in the context of scientific narrative.
However, this variety not only serves to foreground the authorial nature of the archaeological comics creator, but can also usefully foreground the authorial nature of the archaeology under discussion, as creators of archaeological knowledge can acquire new visibility, including practitioners who customarily have low- to no-visibility within such narratives. Person-centred semiotics – such as real-life narrators, real-time narrative, contextual settings and direct speech – can be used to embed the abstractions of archaeological information and the unfamiliarity of archaeological practice within a more familiar, grounded and humanised frame of reference, important when comics are used for community-based public outreach.
Through examples of comics created for archaeological outreach and education, this paper will argue that such foregrounding of authorship is an important part of the theoretical and practical application of comics to archaeology. Such an application can not only facilitate a different approach to transparency and accountability within archaeological narrative, but also has the potential to create a very different kind of archaeological narrative, in which author and authorial practice are rendered not just visible, but visibly interrelated.

Re-empowering the artisan: a case study in CGI Grant Cox, ArtasMedia

The arrival of sophisticated technology (such as renderers, games engines and VR) has brought with it much discussion. Overshadowed in the past few years by techniques like Photogrammetry, the most vocal of these arguments, “How realistic should we make our reconstructions…?” has consistently flourished, naturally progressing to the vocalization of renderers and computational processes. Originally used as an argument against the dangers of 3D reconstruction, jargon such as ‘Photorealism’, ‘Hyper-realism’ and ‘Physically accurate’ have often been applied so liberally by archeologists in recent years that they actually now fail to work as benchmarks for the level of visual quality being achieved through CGI in heritage. The author believes the reasons for this stem from a breakdown between commercially driven communities and academia, where valuable processes are often identified and then removed from their wider context (and standards) without reciprocation. This miscommunication has, in the example of CGI often led to the removal of the practitioner, their role as creator and the relationship between their current skill level and the output.
Incidentally, an ‘inception like’ false reality is a very real possibility for true commercial photorealistic practitioners such as Alex Roman, Grant Warwick and Bertrand Bernoit, but instead of distancing themselves, these artists actively embrace their role as authors to hone their skill, framing their craft as an informed amalgamation of digital, film and photographic ideals. This talk will look at the benefit these same reflections could have on the empowerment of the archaeologist and our collective understanding of the past.

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