On Friday night we had an amazing turn out for the opening of Ryan Stander's photo exhibition Topos/Chora. Ryan was the artist-in-resident at the Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project last summer and produced a remarkable series of photographs during his time with us. We also showed a trailer of a new PKAP documentary produced by Ian Ragsdale and his company Big Ape Productions. Both the film and photographs garnered their respective creators great reviews.
At the same time as the opening was being planned and produced, I've been reading Y. Hamilakis and A. Anagnostopoulos's edited volume Archaeological Ethnographies (London 2009). It occurred to me, particularly after reading the final article in the collection which featured a photo-essay by the editors and F. Ifantidis, that Ryan's photographs were a kind of ethnographic documentary of our project. Unlike much of the Hamilakis and Anagnostopoulos volume, Ryan's photographs did not capture the interaction between project members and the Cypriot community, but rather captured the interaction between the members of the project. One could argue that Ryan's photographs sought to capture the dynamic between people on a project as they sought to produce archaeological knowledge from the landscape. The gallery opening represented another ethnographic moment as a wide range of visitors both attempted to understand the photographs as expressions of the photographers art as well as used the photographs as prompts to explore the experience and goals of the archaeological processes. PKAP alumni who came to the opening used the photographs as mnemonic triggers to recall the landscape and, more importantly, their experiences at the site. The result of these conversations was a genuinely transdisciplinary experience as conversations moved from the field of photography to archaeology. In this context, the ethnography of archaeology is doubled: once in the photographs and a second time in the engagement with the photographs as prompts to recall or explore the archaeological process.
We did not document the public's engagement with the photographs at the opening (we should have), and this limited the value of the evening as a genuinely ethnographic experience. The experience was enough, however, to demonstrate the potential of this kind of transdisciplinary space in documenting the way in which a dynamic group of people understand archaeology as a picture, process, and experience.