Objects in the photographic archive: Between the field and the museum in Egyptian archaeology

Christina Riggs

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From the late nineteenth century, photography was inseparable from archaeological fieldwork, and object photography in particular was crucial to the creation and circulation of the archaeological artefact. Which objects were selected for photography, how they were photographed, and what then happened to both object and photograph: these interrelated aspects of ‘the object habit’ require further interrogation in order to situate the historical acts of knowledge production through which archaeologists, museum curators, and a wider public have apprehended the material remains of the ancient past. In this paper, I draw on examples of object photography in Egyptian archaeology from the 1850s onwards, and in particular, the archive formed during the 1920s excavation of the tomb of Tutankhamun. Like the objects themselves, photographs were destined to circulate between field and museum, and the photographic requirements of these complementary spaces arguably influenced both the ‘look’ of object photographs and the way the photographs were themselves used and catalogued, not only at the time of a given excavation, but subsequently. As this paper argues, colonial-era formations of knowledge about the object endure in the archive, obscuring the social and material practices through which photography operated.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)140-161
Number of pages22
JournalMuseum History Journal
Issue number2
Early online date15 Jun 2017
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • archaeological photography
  • object photography
  • photographic archives
  • colonial archaeology
  • Théodule Devéria (1831–71)
  • W. M. Flinders Petrie (1853–1942)
  • Harry Burton (1879–1940)

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