Photography

A photograph made using the traditional silver halide process is a visual record largely unaltered by the photographer. It is this quality of capturing a mirrored image of the scene that lends itself to archaeological photography. Photography has been an essential component of the documentary process from the beginning of excavations at the Agora. The photograph, whether taken by the excavator or by the staff photographer, is an irreplaceable visual record of the excavation’s progress. Stored in the project’s photographic archive are over 300,000 images documenting the excavations and catalogued objects.

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The image was taken on the afternoon of May 25, 1931, and illustrates the work accomplished during the first day of excavations in Section Ε. The buildings on the west side of the Agora had been demolished in preparation for excavation, resulting in an unobstructed view from the Church of Panagia Vlassarou toward the Hephaisteion.

From the beginning of excavations, the photographic record can be divided into the use of large format and small format cameras. Herman Wagner, a member of the German Archaeological Institute, was the first staff photographer. He was primarily responsible for the large format photography, using a view camera that required 18 x 24 cm glass negatives. These large format images, even to this day, are unequalled for the amount of information that can be transmitted in a single image.

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An enlarged detail from the 18 x 24 cm negative above.

During this first season, Wagner returned to the same vantage point and took a series of images illustrating the progress of the work through time. In this way a step-by-step visual record was made of the excavations.

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Early June 1931
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June 19, 1931
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July 22, 1931

Whereas the staff photographer was called upon to photograph the most important features with a large-view camera, the excavators were given a 35mm camera (a Leica) to record the day-to-day details of the progress of the excavations. This handheld camera was easy to carry about and use more spontaneously. These Leica images reveal a more candid view of the work on the excavation.

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View looking southeast across Section Ε on July 7, 1931, at 5 p.m.

The photograph above was taken from Poseidon St. (the west side of the Agora) looking southeast across Section Ε. The photographer was most likely Frederick O. Waagé, the excavator of Section Ε in 1931. In the foreground is the newest area of the section to be opened up; the Church of Panagia Vlassarou is visible in the middle, the Acropolis behind. Waagé labeled the photograph as an “extracurricular photo of Acropolis.” The content of the image combines both archaeological and contemporary historical details.

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Sometimes the photographer himself has been captured on film while at work. T. Leslie Shear, director of the excavations and an accomplished photographer, was caught recording the discovery of a herm (S 33).
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“In 5/A at -2.50 was found a herm lying on its side; it had formed the support of a large statue of a draped woman? holding a child on the left arm which rested on the top of the Herme, child’s body preserved up to just above waist. Total height preserved: 1.36 m” (Nb. Ε I, p. 140; June 4, 1931).
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The herm as photographed by T. Leslie Shear, June 4, 1931, 11 a.m.
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Excavations in the Athenian Agora are conducted by the American School of Classical Studies.
Primary funding is provided by the Packard Humanities Institute (PHI).