05 December 2014
SIG: Archaeology and Heritage
Emphasis at this year's Annual Conference on 11 October – the 40th since the Group's inception - was very much on Archaeology: the chairman, in opening the Conference and introducing the first speaker, reminded the audience that a primary aim of the Archaeological Group, as it then was, was "to advise and assist archaeologists in photographically recording" their excavations and discoveries.
The opening talk, by historian and archaeologist Eric Houlder LRPS, lived up to this aim with a detailed description of "3 Di Photography" – the relatively new technique of taking multiple digital images of an archaeological site or artefact, each differing slightly in viewpoint, then combining these via a complex software algorithm into a three-dimensional picture revealing the subject in minute detail. Subtitled "a new tool for the record photographer", Eric's presentation illustrated both the technique in use, and examples of the resulting images.
Eric Houlder followed this opening talk with a second, on the markedly different topic of portraiture. Entitled "Obituary Portraiture", his theme was the desirability of making good portraits of prominent archaeologists and other site workers, as a permanent record while they are still alive and active. His own such pictures, taken over the past 50 years, showed many well-known – and lesser-known – fellow archaeologists, both at work and in more formal settings. 'Such pictures', he emphasised, 'should be made on a more disciplined and deliberate basis than just casual snapshots – they are as important a record as are our painstaking photographs of excavations and archaeological treasures'.
Recording Britain's 'stately homes'
Third presentation of the morning session was by Dr Mike Sasse – "English Manor Houses and Stately Homes". His pictures spanned the entire history of such buildings, from the early defensive structures such as Berkeley Castle , through their transition to fortified manor houses; then to the 'great halls'; and finally to the manor house as we know it today – the often awe-inspiring home of the 'Lord of the Manor', and in turn of the landed gentry with large estates and numerous tenant farmers.
Such houses as Burleigh in Lincolnshire, and Dyrham Park near Bath, were among the most impressive buildings included among Dr Sasse's detailed photographs, which well illustrated the variations in style from Tudor, Jacobean and Palladian to 'Greek Style' and 'Victorian Gothic'. Many others, he reminded us, were destroyed or left to become derelict: typical here was Clumber Park near Worksop, where only the gardens and foundation walls remain of this once-great estate.
Mosques and Monasteries from Mongolia to Myanmar
Last presentation of the morning was an account by Chelin Miller LRPS of her travels in China, Mongolia and South East Asia over a period of four years, making a comprehensive photographic study of not only their religious buildings but also the lifestyle of their people. These ranged from the nomadic and semi-nomadic tribes of Mongolia to the Buddhists of a rapidly modernising China, and to the monks, nuns and novices of Cambodia and Myanmar. A fascinating glimpse of people and places, and an important aspect of Heritage photography.
Buddhist temple in Bagan, Myanmar (photo © Chelin Miller)
'Living history' in Rome ... and in Suffolk
Following lunch, the next talk was by Walter Brooks on "Rome – the Eternal City". Though a common romantic epithet of Rome, in this case the title was literal, for as Walter explained and illustrated, the original heart of the present-day city consists of 'layers' of archaeological history. For some 2,200 years, as Rome became more and more heavily populated, its residents built 'new' on top of 'old' – so a great deal of the old is still in situ. An example well illustrated in Walter's accompanying photographs is the 4th century church of Santi Giovanni e Paolo, built on top of what excavations have revealed to be two 2nd century Roman houses, with well preserved pagan and Christian wall paintings.
Next we were regaled with a remarkable but true archaeological reminiscence by Eric Houlder LRPS. "The Strange Case of the Chianti Bottle in the Ship Trench" recounted his discovery in 1968, on the famous Sutton Hoo Saxon burial ship site in Suffolk, of a buried Chianti bottle and the remains of its wicker basket. Eric's account of the discovery, and of his subsequent research into why and when the bottle might have been buried in the original ship trench, formed a part-serious, part-humorous interlude.
Greensted church in Essex – the nave dates from 1060 (photo © R. K. Evans)
Concluding the Conference programme, chairman Keith Evans FRPS presented an illustrated account of the Group's visits and events during the previous 12 months. His photographs ranged from a Buddhist temple in south-west London to the First World War RFC aerodrome at Stowe Maries in Essex, Second World War 'Station X' at Bletchley Park, and a variety of churches and their artefacts spanning more than a thousand years – an appropriate conclusion to what had been another excellent A & H Group Conference.
Code-breaking 'bombe' at Bletchley Park (photo © R. K. Evans)
William Reynolds Stephens' art nouveau interior of St Mary's church, Great Warley (photo © R. K. Evans)
By Keith Evans FRPS, Chairman of the Archaeology and Heritage Group
Feature photo Ikhad Mosque Kashgar © Chelin Miller