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Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology



Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology & the Ancient World
Brown University
Box 1837 / 60 George Street
Providence, RI 02912
Telephone: (401) 863-3188
Fax: (401) 863-9423
[email protected]

The question that Bochay posed to Jessica in this week’s class, regarding the possibility of different perspectives while looking at the different standing stones at Bodmin Moor, highlights Bradley’s complaint about phenomenology in An Archaeology of Natural Places: “The problem is that it is almost impossible to assess the insights provided by these studies without repeating them on the ground, for they have not been conducted with an explicit methodology in mind. As a result, there is no simple way of deciding whether the authors’ observations are significant or whether the patterns that they describe could have come about by chance” (42). I think that few of us would argue with phenomenology’s value as an exercise in archaeology, especially concerning investigations into issues of place; but Bradley’s complaint is a valid one. How can phenomenological research be documented in a way that is accessible to anyone?

Media, of course, can play a supporting role. We’ve been working this week with and the assertion that “photography is profoundly archaeological,” and this approach to documenting phenomenological observations seems to have potential for closing the gap between the experience by the researcher and the person trying to access that experience through the researcher’s (usually written) documentation. Critics, of course, say that photographs are too easily manipulated by the photographer’s biases; but then, what part of our research (and its subsequent documentation) is not? True, someone conducting phenomenological research may not think of, and/or experience, the instance of realizing that stones lined up in a certain way at Bodmin Moor create a particular and notable (in this case, visual) experience, but no matter the research, there are always bound to be gaps; a trench supervisor may miss an object in a section wall while making the drawing, but that doesn’t fundamentally undermine its value as a necessary practice in archaeological excavation. When trying to understand people’s sense of place, especially in an ancient landscape, it is important to use all these approaches – phenomenology, photography, drawing, mapping, etc. – that can work with and off of each other to produce a more holistic understanding of a place.

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This idea of photography as archaeology raises some intriguing questions: what does a photograph have to do to convincingly convey a sense of place, and what defines a photo that manages to do so? This was sparked by the Woodstock photo that Ömür showed in class – other than the two trees in the background, the place was suggested only by the mass of people; certainly they contribute to the placeness of Woodstock as an experience, but are they what makes Woodstock? Can a place’s event, expressed visually here through a captured moment of the people involved, be separated from the location in which it took place and exist from then on only in photographs and people’s memories? This certainly rubs the wrong way against Casey’s idea that space + time = place. I’ve been struggling with this idea in reference to a different photo project that I discovered several months ago but have been so fascinated with that I can’t help but return: Simon Hoegsberg’s “We’re All Gonna Die – 100 meters of existence,” 178 photos that took place over 20 days from the same location on a Berlin bridge. Save the occasional crane or plane in the background, there is no way of “grounding” the people photographed in a particular place. Yet the most fascinating thing about the photo is that they’re all in the same location at different times, and the photo reflects how the action of crossing a transitory space – a bridge – makes the place both similar and different for all of them. The significance of that is an idea I’m still wrestling with.