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Shadow SitesPhotography, Archaeology, and the British Landscape 1927–1955$
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Kitty Hauser

Print publication date: 2007

Print ISBN-13: 9780199206322

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780199206322.001.0001

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Tracing the Trace: Photography, the Index, and the Limits of Representation

Tracing the Trace: Photography, the Index, and the Limits of Representation

(p.57) 2 Tracing the Trace: Photography, the Index, and the Limits of Representation
Shadow Sites

Kitty Hauser

Oxford University Press

Photography, as is well known, is the image-making technology which specializes in the freezing of time.1 What kind of historiography, then, might photography be said to embody? How can photography, with its ineluctable connection to the present moment, hope to say anything at all about the past—about either the broad processes of history or even the events of the hours and minutes immediately preceding the second in which the photograph is taken? What kinds of knowledge of the past does photography allow, and what does it disallow? How can photography, that most superficial of media, hope to become a vehicle for the archaeological imagination, with its love of immanent depths? If photographic technology is uniquely equipped to record (visually) the present moment, it is also characterized—famously—by its thorough and indiscriminate recording of surface detail. What it lacks in temporal depth it makes up for in this meticulous rendering of appearances; any surface marked by the effects of action or time can be faithfully recorded by this technology which itself produces the marked surfaces of photographic plate, film, or print. History and the passing of time is available to photography only in the form of its traces, the more-or-less legible marks and remnants it has left behind at any one moment in the world. And it is precisely photography’s own nature as a chemical trace (until digitization, at least) that enables it accurately to reproduce these marks and signs of history. As discussed in Chapter 1, since the nineteenth century (at least) historical sciences such as palaeontology, geology, and archaeology have based themselves upon the reading of such signs of the past in the present, and this broad epistemological model could be extended to include military reconnaissance, forensic science, and art connoisseurship. Photography, fixing these signs in an image, has had—unsurprisingly, perhaps—an important part to play in the historical development of these disciplines. Photography meets the archaeological imagination as soon as photographic images are scanned for historical information in these disciplines and practices. In a sense, however, photography cannot help but represent the world archaeologically, since it cannot help but record its objects and landscapes in a temporal context, the traces of the past scattered across their surfaces. Ruskin enthused over this quality of the new medium.

Keywords:   Scharf, archaeology, criminology, detective fiction, forensic science, geology, historical sciences, military reconnaissance, preservationism, road-building, scouting

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