A single glass plate negative formerly in the collection of Howard Carter (most famously the excavator of Tutankhamun’s tomb) and now in the archives of the Griffith Institute, Oxford University raises a number of questions about photography, archaeological practice, and the creation and use of excavation archives. By following this negative, known as Negative VIII, on five of its trajectories through time, media, and space, I argue that the reproducibility of the photographic image creates a distinct set of issues within archaeology, which has preferred to emphasise photography as a unique record of the destructive excavation process. Tracing the genealogy of a photographic image (rather than the biography of a singular photograph) allows us to consider the circulation of photographs as physical objects and through public dissemination, as well as the relationship between an image’s content and its use. The parallel existences of Negative VIII highlight the pitfalls and potentials of archival research, where – unless adequately recognised – the apparent banality of certain photographs, and their replication in multiple forms, may stubbornly confound attempts to deconstruct and decolonise the knowledge formations on which nineteenth-century Egyptology was built.
Riggs, C. (2016). Photography and antiquity in the archive, or how Howard Carter moved the road to the Valley of the Kings. History of Photography, 40(3), 267-282. https://doi.org/10.1080/03087298.2016.1140325