Re-framing Photography: The Shadows of the History of Archaeology

by Theopisti Stylianou-Lambert

For the past few years, I have been ‘excavating’ photographic archives relating to Cyprus and archaeology, searching for representations of locals. From my experience so far, in photographic documentation of archaeological excavations in the nineteenthand early twentieth centuries, Cypriot workers were not considered important enough to photographically portray or name. After all, foreign explorers, excavators and archaeologists who had control over the photographic process considered local workers as merely a mindless workforce; the “hands” of archaeology. In contrast, foreign excavators were cast – and photographed as such – as seers, seekers, scholars, the “mind” and “eyes” of archaeology. As a result, collecting institutions, such as museums, libraries and archives, own colonial photographic archives that are in fact the “framings” of particular people; those of foreign excavators. Although we know that Cypriots played a crucial role in Cypriot archaeology, photography of the time mainly mirrored the foreign viewpoints, colonial attitudes and understandings.

Figure 1. Rattle, terracotta, Hellenistic (300-50BC), found in Salamina, Cyprus, reported as excavated by Max Ohnefalsch-Richter, Image courtesy of the British Museum.

I have to confess from the onset that there are no Cypriot objects in Neil MacGregor’s original 100 objects that make up A History of the World in 100 Objects. There is also no photographic material that made the cut. As a result, this essay is about what is invisible or omitted; the shadows of archaeological history. However, when searching the expanded website of the BBC’s A History of the World in 100 Objects, where several museums contributed with additional content, I could find one – yet only one – Cypriot object: A small Hellenistic child’s rattle in the form of a pig (BBC, n.d.).[i] The object was contributed by Wirral Museums Service and is located at the Williamson Art Gallery and Museum. A search of the British Museum’s database reveals that the British Museum owns three similar objects. One of them (Figure 1) is said to be excavated by Max Ohnefalsch-Richter, a key figure in Cypriot archaeology who also happened to be a photographer. A search for his photographs led me to the Cultural Foundation of the Bank of Cyprus that owns the only complete surviving photographic album of Max Ohnefalsch-Richter and his wife Magda. In 1895, the couple presented this luxurious album to the Prince and Princess Bernhard of Sachsen-Meiningen-Hildburghausen in order to show their gratitude for funding their expedition in Cyprus.

The Album

Figures 2a, b and c: Original album “Studies in Cyprus” by Magda and Max Ohnefalsch-Richter, 1895, Cultural Foundation of the Bank of Cyprus, photographs by the author, 2021.

The album was wrapped in large white paper that I was allowed to unwrap much like a valuable present (Figures 2a, b & c). I could barely lift it up; this is how heavy it is. I slowly opened its cover revealing a decorative flowery fabric in soft shades of beige, pink and green. Its large cardboard, gold-plated pages include 119 original photographs and nine watercolor paintings. Titled Studies in Cyprus, it intends to outline Max and Magda’s archaeological and ethnographic studies in Cyprus and reassure their benefactors that good work is being carried out (see Marangou and Malecos, 1994 for a full reproduction of the album). I flipped through the album, which contains several photographs of archaeological objects and ethnographic photographs of people, in search of representations of local workers at archaeological sites. Only 13 photographs are taken at excavation sites, of which 11 include people. We see four photographs of Max Ohnefalsch-Richter posing for the camera alone, one of Magda Ohnefalsch-Richter, two with a smaller figure looking at the camera, one with a tiny unidentified figure, and three photographs with groups of people, mostly Cypriot workers. When it comes to visual representations, the lead role is taken by foreign archaeologists who confidently pose for a photograph. On the other hand, locals are mainly presented as “measurement sticks” – small figures in a landscape used to indicate scale – or, alternatively, going about their work in groups. In the rare cases where the workers face the camera, their body posture seems awkward as if they feel uncomfortable and not in control. Feeling comfortable to pose for a camera and directly looking into the lens is a powerful act. It implies a privileged agency and an equal standing with the photographer.

A Photograph

Figure 3: Caption under the photograph reads: “On the ruins of the Eastern acropolis of Idalion during the excavations carried out in 1894 for His Majesty the Emperor. On the hill, Professor Furtwängler, Dr. and Mrs. Ohnefalsch-Richter.” From the original album “Studies in Cyprus” by Magda and Max Ohnefalsch-Richter, 1895, Cultural Foundation of the Bank of Cyprus, photograph by the author.

While flipping through the album, one particular photograph caught my attention. It is the only photograph in which both Max and Magda Ohnefalsch-Richter are present and coexist in the same space as the workers (Figure 3). As both Max and Magda appear in the photograph, we can safely assume that someone else was the photographer.

Figure 4: Framing 1. The photograph as it appears in the original album “Studies in Cyprus” by Magda and Max Ohnefalsch-Richter, 1895, Cultural Foundation of the Bank of Cyprus, photographer unknown.

We see two groups of people at an excavation site, which is identified in the handwritten caption as Idalion, Cyprus (Figure 4). The handwritten caption also identifies the group on the hill as Professor Furtwängler (left), Dr. Ohnefalsch-Richter (right) and Ms. Ohnefalsch-Richter (on the horse). These, and Dörpfeld’s name, are the only names mentioned in the album. Apparently, no “native” was considered important enough to mention by name. The relationship between the foreign archaeologists and local workforce visible at the foot of the hill seems to be an unequal one. The archaeologists, overseeing the locals’ manual work, occupy a higher space both visually and metaphorically. They assume a higher moral stance, as “seeing men” (Pratt, 2010, 9), who have a deeper knowledge and understanding of the value of antiquities, and like generals, can direct excavations and people (Given, 2020; Keily, 2021). Their body posture is composed, confident and they look down on the workers. Colonial viewpoints but also social and economic inequalities are thus visualized in this photograph.

Despite the fact that Ohnefalsch-Richter’s photographic records do not acknowledge the help he received from Cypriots, in his dissertation entitled “Die antiken Cultusstätten auf Kypros” (“The ancient Cults of Cyprus”, 1891), he mentions by name two Cypriots who offered invaluable help with his archaeological and photographic work: his foreman Gregori Antoniou and Loiso Anastasi. According to the text, Anastasi was helping with cleaning and putting together fragments, but also with Ohnefalsch-Richter’s photographic work.

Apart from the visualization of power imbalances, what I found most fascinating in Figure 4 are the shadows on the lower right-hand side. We can assume that the sun was at the back of the photographer and accidentally the photograph captured a part of the photographer’s shadow and that of the camera. The Ohnefalsch-Richters were using at the time the dry gelatine plate process (Krpata, 2010), and it is worth remembering that photography in 1894 was still a specialized, complicated and time-consuming process. Since Max Ohnefalsch-Richter was supported with his photographic process by Loiso Anastasi, a native of Idalion, could this picture (which was shot at Idalion) have been taken by Anastasi himself? Having said that, it is very possible that the couple wanted to be in the same picture with the then famous Professor Furtwängler and have staged the photograph themselves. Nevertheless, could a Cypriot have taken the picture that best exemplifies the power imbalances between foreign archaeologists and locals in the late nineteenth century?

Figure 5: Framing 2. Caption in article reads: “The Author, his wife and Professor A. Furtwängler at work on the excavations at Idalion.” The photograph as it appears in Max Ohnefalsch-Richter’s article in Nash’s Pall Mall Magazine, 1914, p.749. Cropping by Max Ohnefalsch-Richter.

Interestingly, Max Ohnefalsch-Richter used this same photograph in a 1914 article (Ohnefalsch-Richter Max, 1914). However, he turned the horizontal photograph into a vertical one by cropping part of the landscape, some of the workers, and the shadows at the bottom right-hand side (Figure 5). As a result, the shadows of the photographer and his apparatus are completely eliminated. Ironically, the caption of the photograph reads: “The Author, his wife and Professor A. Furtwangler at work on the excavations of Idalion”. The author sees no reason to mention the manual work of the workers or the photographer of the specific photograph. This was of course common practice at the time (and sometimes even today) where the knowledge and contribution of the local workforce is ignored in publications (Abd el-Gawad & Stevenson, 2021; Riggs, 2019). When publishing the re-framed photograph, Ohnefalsch-Richter eliminates the photographer twice: once by not mentioning him in the text or caption, and a second time when the only proof of his existence – his shadow – is cropped out.

Re-framing Photography: Focusing on the Shadows

Figure 6: Re-framing a photograph: focusing on Cypriot workers and the invisible photographer. Cropping by the author.

If I had to re-frame the photograph in discussion, much like Ohnefalsch-Richter did in his 1914 article, I would focus instead on what is usually omitted, or underplayed; what became the shadows of archaeological history. I would focus on Cypriot workers and agents who played an important, alas mainly unacknowledged, role in Cypriot archaeology (Figure 6).

But how can museums and other collecting institutions recover the local excavators and workers in their records? Records, that are often biased and one-sided? Can museums work towards revealing, naming and acknowledging the shadows? The answer is a resounding yes, and considerable work has been done in this respect in the past few years by historians, archaeologists and museum professionals. The first step (which is the most straightforward but also quite challenging one) is to identify and create biographies of important local agents and excavators. This information can enrich object descriptions, museum records and photographic metadata, but also be featured in articles and exhibitions.

Unsurprisingly, I was unsuccessful in my search for more information about Loiso Anastasi who might be the photographer of Figure 4. His work is not documented and if he appears in any photographs, we have no idea who he is. This is actually quite common in archaeological archives that feature local workers (Riggs, 2019). But this means that we do not have enough information to identify him or study his work. Then again, I could find some limited information about Gregoris Antoniou, Max Ohnefalsch-Richter’s foreman, and this is only because of the efforts of one British Museum curator. According to Thomas Keily, the A.G. Leventis Curator for Ancient Cyprus at the Department of Greece and Rome at the British Museum, “Gregori reminds us of the general neglect of knowledgeable local agents who helped the discipline to evolve in various ways and who certainly guided more ‘professional’ individuals in their search for antiquities” (Keily, 2019, 47). Gregoris Antoniou was responsible for thousands of excavations. He had also undertaken private excavations on his own, as well as worked with Hogarth and John Munro in Asia Minor (1891) and Evans in Knossos, Crete (1900) (Keily, 2019). Interestingly, 15 years ago, there was no mention of Antoniou in the archive of the British Museum (Keily, 2021). Now, Keily is making a conscious effort to re-introduce Antoniou in the history of archaeology by naming him in museum records:

One way we will try to highlight people like Antoniou is to simply include his name as ‘excavator’ in the museum records, alongside those of the archaeologists. It’s a simple method but a good way of reminding people that it was not the curators who did the physical work. We are also including him in a feature on ‘people behind the collection’ which will appear later in the year on the website (private correspondence, Feb. 2021).

Naming is powerful. Naming means acknowledging, a place in history, and can be empowering.

But identifying and naming might not be enough. As photographic archives in collecting institutions reflect the “standpoints” of particular individuals and specific disciplinary practices of the time, another approach is for museums, libraries and archives to consciously and actively collect – where possible – alternative photographic material created by locals, contemporary local media, or tourists. Riggs calls these archives “expanded archives” (Riggs, 2019, 164). They hold the potential to reveal alternative narratives, fill in gaps and provide a more holistic understanding of the past. Finally, another approach is to encourage the use of existing archives for the purposes of developing counter-narratives and grass-root critiques of archaeological practices; especially when local perspectives are involved. A good example of this approach is the project “Egypt’s Dispersed Heritage” which addresses the colonial history of collections of Egyptian archaeology (Abd el-Gawad & Stevenson, 2021). Even though this is a UCL Institute of Archaeology project, it involves Egyptian researchers and artists who address an Egyptian audience in an effort to encourage critical readings from a local perspective.

While museums take small but important steps towards acknowledging the contribution of local workers and agents, collect alternative archives and use archives for the construction of counter-narratives, a lot of work still needs to be done to de-colonize museums’ photographic archives. The main premise underlying all these efforts is that photographic processes are selective and subjective in nature, reflect specific viewpoints or “standpoints”, and are socially constructed. Acknowledging the colonial viewpoint and its effects on knowledge construction can lead to a creative re-examination of photographic archives in collecting institutions and towards the re-framing of their readings. This essay is an attempt at such a re-framing that throws light on what became the shadows of archaeological history; the local agents whose role and contributions have been underestimated, unrecorded and often omitted.

[i] The site uses objects to tell a history of the world. It features 100 objects from the British Museum as well as additional objects from museums and people across the UK. [accessed on 6 August, 2021].


“Cypriot Child’s Rattle”. BBC. Accessed 15 January 15th 2021.

“Rattle”. British Museum. Accessed 12 November 2020.

Abd el-Gawad, Heba and Alice Stevenson. “Egypt’s Dispersed Heritage: Multi-directional Storytelling Through Comic Art”. Journal of Social Archaeology 21, no.1 (2021), 121-145.

Given, Michael. “Surveillance, Survey and Local Knowledge: Landscape relations in the late 19th-century Cypriot Archaeology. Conference presentation at Empire & Excavation: Critical Perspectives on Archaeology in British-period Cyprus, 1878-1960. CAARI and British Museum, 6-7 November 2020.

Keily, Thomas. “Meet the Locals”. Conference presentation at Empire & Excavation: Critical perspectives on archaeology in British-period Cyprus, 1878-1960. CAARI and British Museum, 29-30 January 2021.

Keily, Thomas. “Poachers Turned Gamekeepers? The British Museum’s Archaeological Agents on Cyprus 1893-1899”. In The Tombs of Egkomi. British Museum Excavations, Proceedings of the Enkomi Workshop, Nicosia, December 3rd 2008, edited by Pilides, Despo, 9-52). Nicosia: Department of Antiquities, 2019.

Krpata, Margit Zara. “The Photographic Oeuvre of Magda and Max Ohnefalsch-Richter: An Approach”. In Cypriot Photography in Context: Time, Place and Identity. International Conference of Photography and Theory Conference Proceedings, edited by Stylianou, Elena (electronic proceedings, no page). Limassol: International Association of Photography and Theory, 2010.

Marangou, Anna and Andreas Malecos. Studies in Cyprus. Nicosia: Cultural Centre Cyprus Popular Βank, 1994.

Ohnefalsch-Richter, Max. “Cyprus: its Ancient Civilizations”. Nash’s Pall Mall Magazine, 1914,739-753.

Ohnefalsch-Richter, Max. Die antiken Cultusstätten auf Kypros (The ancient Cults of Cyprus) Dissertation. Berlin: H.S. Hermann, 1891.

Pratt, Mary Louise . Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation. London, New York: Routledge, 1992/2008.

Riggs, Christina. Photographing Tutankhamun: Archaeology, Ancient Egypt, and the Archive. London: Bloomsbury Visual Arts, 2019.

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