I like to draw (badly), I like to take photographs of things (archaeological and non-archaeological, especially with my polaroid camera which everyone mocks me for being a massive hipster for having) I like to play around image manipulation software (GIMP 2.0 to be precise) and I like to think about the theoretical and methodological frameworks for archaeology, photography, art and craft. Something that sits at the intersection of all these points is photobashing – a technique by which one takes photos and applies various techniques such as painting, filtering, overlaying and otherwise obliterating the original photo through manipulation. I was introduced to it during my MSc research where it was shown to be a main-stay in many production practices for AAA games (as well as a great deal of other artistic avenues). The thing which sparked my interest was that I spoke to two artists who were working on a game that had archaeology in it, who were using old site-photos and bashing them for use in concept art. Turns out that photobashing in this way is pretty much standard practice across any industry which places high value on graphical fidelity / speed of production / otherwise hasan interest in the relationship between the photo, process of bashing it and the end result. This last section – the relationship between photo, process and result – is where I tend to focus my thoughts as I bash the living hell out of various archaeological photos in various ways over my lunch breaks. The following image is one which I took on my walk to the office this morning and then photo-bashed the ever-loving hell out of to make it look like a pretty watercolour with a pretty landscape behind it (basically used the photo as my starting point and then painted over it using watercolour brushes and masks in GIMP before outlining with an ink-pen brush):


My interest in this intersection boils down to the following stream of thought.

  • Photography, which is widely used on archaeological sites, has been problematized due to the tendency to focus on the objective nature of the capture and its role as representative of reality (rather than the subjective process of selecting, framing, capturing, processing etc).
    1. “Photographs are often taken for granted in archaeology… There is little or no questioning of conventional uses of photography. Archaeological photographs are treated as transparent windows to what they are meant to represent” – Shanks ()
  • Artistic processes, which are also (not quite so) widely used in the archaeological workflow, have been problematized (as well as celebrated) as a recording / interpretation method due to their subjective and interpretive nature.
    1. These processes have also been used as a way to reflexively think about the archaeological record / process (ie: the act of painting, drawing, etc can reveal things about the past and our interpretations / engagements with it)
  • Photo-manipulation (altering contrast, cropping, adjusting colour specs etc) has been widely used in archaeological processes as a way to clear-up, overlay, highlight etc certain elements. This doesn’t seem to be too problematized as the use seems to be largely contextualised under the “data cleaning” heading – a way to make the data in the image more accessible or “true to life”.
  • Photobashing (as far as I can tell – and I could be very, very wrong about this given my research happened in the whole 10 minutes of lunch-break I have left after drawing things) has not been used widely in archaeological work-flows (there are certainly a handful of examples out there but no really succinct literature base or engagement with the topic).
    1. Perhaps this is due to photobashing occupying a strange zone – putting something captured through a mechanical process through a subjective one (the extent to which this process could be called artistic or the end result “art” is highly, highly, oh my god so highly debated – regardless)
    2. Perhaps this is due to photobashing being regarded as an auxiliary or unnecessary process that holds no value for archaeological thought / outcomes / whatever
    3. Perhaps, and I swear this is the final string of thought for this section, it is because people engaged with the capturing, processing and outcomes of archaeology don’t really know what photobashing is or how to engage with it – it exists outside of the frameworks

My own engagements with photobashing have bought up the following points:

  • Photobashing, due to sitting at an intersection of subjective processes and mechanical capture, allows for some interesting interactions and reflexivity between both sides of this discussion – whilst bashing away you think about how and why the photos were taken in particular ways, how your processes alter or engage with this and how the various remediation’s both affect and effect that relationship.
  • The actual processes of photobashing, for example making a photo look like a watercolour painting, challenge and reflect on the “real” artistic processes. For example, my Mum is a watercolour artist and I have dabbled in it (badly). Creating an effect through photobashing is extremeeeeeeeeely different to the process of creating a watercolour styled image on digital platforms from scratch which, in turn, is also extreeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeemely different to the process of creating a an actual watercolour from scratch. This offers some interesting avenues to think about the relationship between digital – physical and the role of simulation in technique.
  • The relationship between how something looks and feels in reality, how it looks and feels in a photo and how it looks and feels in an artistic render and how we can navigate, understand and reflect between these spaces.

To conclude (because lunch-break is over)

Photobashing is a technique which (to my knowledge) has not found a huge amount of use in the archaeological processes. Despite this it provides a space where an interesting interplay between the subjective, mechanical and data driven capture elements of archaeological work-flow can be explored in a way which layers and potentially inverts the usual relationship. Whilst in and of itself it does not appear to be a hugely impactful technique the potential for reflexivity and discussion of the relationship between these dichotomies (digital / physical, objective / subjective, real / simulative, art / data capture etc) seems to be an interesting (albeit a potentially rather superficial) one. Plus it can look cool.