Chapple, R. M. 2012 'The William Dunlop Archaeological Photographic Archive' Blogspot post


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Chapple, R. M. 2012 'The William Dunlop Archaeological Photographic Archive' Blogspot post

  1. 1. The William Dunlop Archaeological Photographic Archive Originally posted online on September 25th 2012 at ( archaeological.html)Preface: This is a slightly longer version of an article submitted to the UlsterArchaeology Societys Newsletter, edited by Duncan Berryman (@ArchaeologistD).The on-line version is available to read: here. If you have an interest in thearchaeology of Ulster, please consider joining the Society - it is a wonderful resourcethat deserves our support!It doesn’t take me to tell the readers of this Newsletter that Billy Dunlop was formany years the energetic heart of the UAS. His long-term editorship of thisNewsletter, while impressive, was but one of his achievements. He was involved injust about every aspect of UAS life, from committee work, to attending lectures andfield-trips to, in 2000, holding the position of President of the Society. With hispassing in September of last year, I lost a valued friend and a trusted mentor (readmy tribute to Billy here). In this I am not alone - many of us felt the same way aboutBilly. He was many things to many people: friend, mentor, confidant, travellingcompanion, and father figure to a generation of archaeologists.In the time after his death many of us contacted the Dunlop family to offercondolences on their loss and whatever help and assistance we could. I was honouredto have been among the small group invited by the family to assist in theredistribution of Billys personal library. While some books went into my owncollection, and some went to charity shops, I tried to ensure that as many as possiblewent to younger archaeologists (read about it here). My reasoning was that many ofthe volumes were still good quality research and reference resources and deserved to
  2. 2. see regular use. I also thought that passing on these books would help ensure Billyslegacy with a generation of graduates who hadnt been lucky enough to meet him inperson. Having run through all these thoughts, I simply settled on the idea that,legacy or not, it would have been what Billy would have wanted. This process tookseveral weeks and multiple trips to the family home in Gilnahirk to load up my carwith more and more boxes and bags of books. Towards the end of this process wehad to ask the question what is going to happen to Billys photos? Here was adifficult problem. Going back to the mid 1970s, Billy had been taking photographs ofarchaeological sites. As far as I can see, his exploits peaked in the mid to late 1980s,but he was still actively taking photographs and (usually) cataloguing them up to afew years before his death. The primary difficulty was that, unfortunately, no one inBillys family has a particular interest in archaeology. While they realised that Billyhad put an awful lot of time and effort into creating and cataloguing this collection,there was no one who wished to retain and curate it. The way it was put to me was: ifI was interested, I was free to take it away, but otherwise it would be disposed of.Here was another problem - as much as I admired and respected Billy, he wasnt agreat photographer! True, some of his photographs were quite important in terms ofbeing informal records of life on a number of the big research excavations of his day.However, the vast majority were of various excursions, through UAS or other bodies,to sites and monuments. These were simply tourist snaps - for the most part thesecould be easily replicated today. My initial opinion was that these represented verylittle worth, either as archaeological documents or beautiful images.In all honesty, I was filled with angst about this - I didnt want to bring yet anotherbox of stuff into my home that would sit in my attic gently decaying for the next fewdecades. Similarly, I did not fancy the idea of allowing this material to be dumped.Eventually my inner hoarder won out and I (very reluctantly) agreed to take thearchive home to join the other detritus Ive picked up in a life in archaeology. Overthe next couple of months I started to go through the various packets of photos andexamine some of their contents. My first impression was that the candid shots of lifeon excavations were interesting and valuable as an archaeological resource inthemselves. Billys photos gave a glimpse of all the things that are a normal part oflife for professional archaeologists, but not usually seen in the finished reports - theteam having lunch; someone setting up the dumpy level; people trowelling away in atrench; well-known and respected senior figures in the profession, sunburnt and inshorts, squinting at section faces. I immediately thought that these were exactly thesort of image that people would be interested in seeing - part of the history of Irisharchaeology. Closer examination of what I had initially dismissed as tourist snapsrevealed that these, too, had some measure of worth. Firstly, many were decentphotos of interesting sites. While this is all well and good in itself, I felt that therewere more than enough photographs of Irish archaeological sites already available onthe Internet. Billys photos had other things that made them special - in particular,some captured unique moments that are unlikely ever to be replicated. To give oneexample: what are the chances of getting Prof. George Eogan, and Sir Colin Renfrew(the latter carrying a briefcase) on to Maeves Cairn in the Carrowmore Complex. Nodisrespect to any of those named above, but I reckon that its a pretty unlikelysituation that is unlikely to happen any time soon. But heres the thing - it didhappen! In 1982 there was an international conference to discuss the results ofGöran Burenhults excavations at Carrowmore - and Billy was there to record it! It isfleeting moments like these that Billy captured - wonderful little snippets of life ... ofnever-to-be-repeated scenes ... all otherwise lost, had it not been for Billy and his
  3. 3. camera. In other cases Billys snapshots - many of which are dated - may yet proveuseful to students and those charged with the long-term management andpreservation of these sites. Simply put, Billys photos show the site as it was at aparticular time and in a particular condition. Analyses of these images, inconjunction with other resources, may allow for fuller understandings of thevegetational and conservation histories of some sites, and assist in the planning offuture conservation works.Whatever the aesthetic/historical/sociological value of these images and their futureresearch potential, they were never going to be appreciated by anyone if they couldnot be seen. For this reason, I put together a small website with the rather grandiosetitle of: ‘The William Dunlop Archaeological Photographic Archive’, along with apage on Facebook to promote it. While the Facebook page was originally intendedmerely as a tool for promoting the collection, it has evolved to be much more thanthat. I cannot hope to match Billy’s expansive travels and knowledge, and sometimesit has been hard to decipher his writing. This is where the Facebook page has provento be an amazing resource in its own right. From time to time I have posted picturesthere, some with only a little information (perhaps a year and a county), sometimeswith no information at all – and always with a plea for information and assistance. Ihave yet to be disappointed at the response from enthusiasts and professionals alike.Sometimes it only takes one or two comments to put me on the right track, othertimes it can take a number of people commenting and suggesting places over severaldays, but we have always gotten there in the end!Much of my free time in the early part of 2012 has been taken up with scanning,cropping, and general manipulation of the photos. To date, I’ve uploaded over 700photos, covering 11 Irish counties along with dedicated albums to a further sevenmajor archaeological excavations. I have tried to upload them in relatively smallbatches, so as not to overwhelm ‘the market’, and (hopefully) to build up a following.I had no particular goal in any of this, other than to allow Billy’s photos to be seen bythe world – professional archaeologist and enthusiastic amateur alike. To date, thecollections have received tens of thousands of views from all over the world. Ifrequently receive emails from strangers, telling me how they discovered thecollection on the internet and have been inspired by the images to either read aboutIrish archaeology, or (in a small number of instances) come visit this island. Evenmore gratifying has been the correspondence I have received from a substantialnumber of Billy’s friends, sharing reminiscences about field trips and excavationslong past.I have often wondered if I have done the right thing – would Billy have approved ofmy sharing his photographs in this manner? I can only believe that the effort hespent in cataloguing his collection suggests that he did want it to be seen by others.While such ‘social media’ as Facebook may well have been unfamiliar to Billy, I amequally certain that he would have approved of the manner in which his images havesparked research and good-natured debate. But most of all, I think he would haveapproved of people from diverse backgrounds taking an interest in our sharedheritage and learning to value and appreciate it.