Crafting Knowledge with (Digital) Visual Media in Archaeology

Crafting Knowledge with (Digital) Visual Media in Archaeology by Sara Perry

Visual producers have a deep and inseparable relationship with the institutionalisation and development of archaeological practice. Their role in articulating concepts, circulating knowledge, refining interpretations, and publicising sites, finds and features – indeed demarcating those sites/finds/features in the first instance – is hardly a point for contention today. That role is increasingly attested to, not only by varied scholarly and professional investigations (e.g. Earl 2013; Llobera 2011; Moser 2014) but also by visualisers themselves, who chronicle their work and process both in print and online forums. Such chronicling is far from new, as evidenced by the reflective publications of, for example, the early twentieth century American reconstruction artist Charles Robert Knight (e.g. Knight 1946), mid-twentieth-century British archaeological illustrator Alan Sorrell (e.g., Sorrell 1973), or current ‘palaeo-artist’ John Gurche (e.g. Gurche 2013), among others. It is complemented by biographical meditations on the productivity of scientist artist partnerships, such as the First World War-era anthropologist Aimé Rutot’s positive assessment of his working relationship with the Belgian sculptor of prehistoric ‘portraits’ Louis Mascré (Rutot 1919; see also Knight’s autobiographical reflections, cited in Cain 2010, on his ‘mutually helpful’ collaborations with Henry Fairfield Osborn, curator at the American Museum of Natural History at the turn of the twentieth century). Similarly, it is extended by a growing number of weblog and social media-based archives, wherein contemporary producers are circulating their often in-progress visual outputs for comment (e.g. Swogger 2014; Watterson 2014), thereby opening themselves and their practice up to the scrutiny and critique of myriad audiences. These archives are not necessarily artistic portfolios or online repositories of final imagery, but spaces for argument and conceptual refinement, helping to expose the intellectual work at the heart of archaeological visual media.