Over the last decade, I’ve been messing around with the relationship between photography and archaeology. As Y. Hamilakis has noted photography and archaeology are “two collateral apparatuses of modernity.” Hamilakis and F. Ifantidis have found new ways to interrogate and reflect on the relationship between photography and archaeology in their new book, Camera Kalaureia (2016). Snippets of ethnographic texts overlay the photographs throughout the short book making clear that the photographs are part of the ethnographic project, and, indeed, the book is called a “Photo-Ethnography.”
The book uses photography as a way to explore the relationships between the past and the present at the site of Kalaureia on Poros. By consciously recognizing photography as an act and the viewing of the photograph as part of that action, the authors embrace the potential of the photograph as a mediator between the viewer, the photographer, and the objects associated both with photography and the history of the site. In their hands, the modern history of the site – including its carefully planted olive trees, the scarred pine trees from resin collection, the traces of modern tiles and mud brick, and the inscribed graffiti of the landowners – fights for attention with the ancient history of the site and long-robbed out temple of Poseidon. More poignantly, the photographs trace the barriers that define the site – a locked gate, a guard shack, and the red-and-white tape and ropes that cordon off the archaeologists’ trenches – and their intersection with the movement of visitors, workmen, and archaeologists across the site.
The photographs are not what we might imagine as conventional “documentary photographs” framed by a kind of “objective” style that focuses the viewer on a point, a person, or an object. Instead the photographs in this book actively drag the viewers eye across panoramas, in and out of focus, and into photos that lack enough contrast to distinguish easily between foreground an background. In fact, some of the most compelling photographs display a relentlessness of focus that prevents the eye from settling comfortably on a point in the photograph. The absence of any place for the eye to rest compels us, first, to become aware of the photographer and the camera, and, then, to probe the photograph for some object, individual, or meaning.
The text makes clear that the camera’s lens and the photographer are as essential to the landscape as the trees, the fragments of the recent past, the archaeologists, and the antiquities. The situatedness of the photographer, the ethnographic texts, and the photographs push the viewer and reader to recognize the persistent interposition of the present, the modern, and the ancient.