Watkins and Crawford: Photographic perspectives

More ley lines….quite literally. Kitty Hauser’s book on O.G.S. Crawford touches on his tetchy interactions with Alfred Watkins, the promoter of the notion of ‘ley lines’. As founder and editor of Antiquity, Crawford gave such ‘crankeries’ pretty short shrift. However, they both shared an interest in the importance of photography in the study of the past. Crawford, as an innovator in aerial archaeology, and Watkins as significant photographer in his own right and a member of the Royal Photographic Society. However, the cartographic nature of the vertical aerial photograph contrasts strongly with the ground level view of Watkins work, much of which he used to illustrate his published work on ley lines. This difference closely reflects the difference approaches to landscape explored by writers such as Chris Tilley (in his Phenomenology of Landscape). Not surprisingly in Tilley’s work he criticises the ‘objective’ and ‘totalising’ objective and map centred approach which characterises much modern landscape archaeology, instead privileging the subjective, experiential and phenomenological perspective used by many post-structuralist archaeologists and anthropologists. It seems that that despite Watkins’ approach being consigned to the dustbin by Crawford, it is in fact his approach that is more in tune with certain streams of modern archaeology. Poor old Crawford also comes in for a bit of a kicking in Matthew Johnson’s Ideas of Landscapes. However, I think Tilley’s book certainly over-does his arguements and his heavy use of binary oppositions in contrasting objective/subjective approaches to landscape are a little surprising in someone who is meant to be post-structuralist. I’m going to go back to Matthew Johnson’s book soon, in the light of my increased interest in the uses of archaeology in the 1920s-1950s (and the fact that I read it when getting an average of four hours of sleep a night); now I’m more awake and more informed I’m looking forward to giving it another go.

Published by David Petts

Assc. Prof Archaeology, Durham University - landscapes - old music/books - folk traditions - early med Britain - community heritage - post-medieval - views own @davidpetts1 outlandish-knight.blogspot.co.uk

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