Protect your work, protect yourself, protect each other!

If you believe in your ability and value yourself, don’t ever let someone come in and make you question yourself. Not only does it have personal ramifications for you, in the long-term these attitudes can cause industry wide problems when people with skill, who train hard and put their trust in people are effectively exploited in the name of profit under the guise of ‘experience’. Don’t get me wrong, profit is good and people deserve to receive fair returns for the effort, skill, demand and time they put into their work, but when attitudes are developed solely to manipulate people (and it becomes the fashion to do so) there is a problem. Profit needs to be balanced alongside keeping the people you work with happy and hungry to improve and develop. Unfortunately too often profits are crunched and those higher up the pay scale benefit at the expense of the hard work of those below them. When the axe falls, usually it is at those towards the bottom end of the financial scale..

There is nothing wrong with doing free, or portfolio work if it is your choice and you feel you need it. Likewise, if you have an excess of work and allow people who seek you out asking for experience to aid you (especially if you can see that they need a mentor), that is their prerogative to do so. In all careers you need to show and highlight that you have experience and every now and again you also might think, “You can’t pay me, but you deserve this” and I want to help you, I am sure that everyone has at some point needed to make a few sacrifices to get valuable experience, or help out a friend. This post is not trying to rip down every charity gesture, or necessary practice. However, eventually you need to make the jump from being an amateur to a professional (Or what is the point in getting all that experience in the first place?) and once that switch happens and you cross that line it becomes increasingly demoralizing to hear people using pick up lines that promise you the world with the same empty words that time after time fail to materialize past immediate deadlines and projects just to get you to drop your price, or undercut someone else. The ability to be able to extend charity to your friends, colleagues or even strangers is something that should be down to you as an individual and when it happens, people should be grateful for your decision and they should appreciate exactly what the act means. This post is just to follow-up and reiterate what is being said in the video above, everyone will tell you what you want to hear, so take it with a pinch of salt. Future promises do not pay the bills today.

Archaeology as a career, are you serious?

In archaeology (And as you can see above, art), people seem to be happy to work for free (Or very close to free) without a concern about what it could be doing for the wider long-term profession. Not only is it increasingly being seen as an unavoidable situation, entire attitudes seem to revolve around reinforcing this idea from the earliest days of study. As an Undergraduate in archaeology, it was frequently a defeatist area of debate  during my study (And an ongoing running joke to this day) that there was/is no money available in the discipline and students would frequently joke about how we should have studied another subject if we considered forging a career for ourselves. If during your first year as an Undergraduate your future colleagues are already disillusioned, then surely questions need to be asked about attitudes within the discipline. Where is the incentive to work hard without prospects? By my final year I had already decided that I needed to sandwich in another specialism to give myself career options, but unfortunately that profession also seems to suffer from many of the same problems..

Are you not generalising a little?

I am sure there are plenty of legitimate claims from archaeological projects, where they do not have money, I just want to get that out-of-the-way. I am not somehow trying to insinuate that there are hidden suitcases of money lying around in every academic, or site directors basement that they are swimming around in late at night when nobody is around. Not everyone is being purposely manipulative, but I am sure many are silently just accepting the current equilibrium because it is convenient to do so. Developing talents are being encouraged to give up before they ever begin trying to forge a career and slowly softened up for the eventual necessity of working for free, only to then go to conferences and hear questions like, “Where has all of the young talent gone?”. Such a question was raised in CAA earlier this year to which the reply came that they were most likely looking towards professions where the instant reaction is not, “Sorry we can’t pay you that much, if anything, or offer you any kind of security, but you can work for the experience..?”. Attitudes towards archaeology I feel in this vein can be linked very closely to the artistic world because neither seem to get the respect they deserve as subjects, or life choices. CGI is everywhere, Hollywood would crumble without it, yet the industry is going through some major problems. Tax credits and trying to consistently crunch profits has seen companies physically bankrupt themselves with those at the top walking away with millions whilst the everyday workers get paid with future hope and manipulation. History and archaeology is everywhere (On TV and in the news), yet the industry is also going through problems. Courses are less attractive, jobs are hard to come by and the belief seems to float around that people can somehow pay their bills with the experience they get from working on projects.

In many ways it seems to be quite a worldwide social problem that the creative and inherently subjective professions are seen as worth less than other areas, unless you somehow obtain a celebrity like status by doing it. Then you can be worth an extortionate amount and people will be willing to pay obscene amounts of money because of a name. A case in point can be seen in the spineless 180 that the Clacton-On-Sea council performed after realizing the money that they literally scrubbed from their walls. This in itself highlights an issue where instead of valuing hard work, skill, or effort, people pay for celebrity, prestige and the right name. If you are lucky enough, all of these categories might overlap, but often you end up paying more for a name than you do quality. The point, I feel is that valuation is somewhat of a vicious circle. If you do not value yourself, how do you expect anyone else to respect you, or your craft/skill/time? It is no mystery how large brands get people to buy into their products, they build their value through clever advertising and product placement. The Beats by Dre headphones are possibly one of the most visible examples of this process in recent years, to the point where after his fight with Christopher Rebrasse, George Groves stuck on a pair for the interviews that were not even plugged in just to advertise. They as a brand obviously have money and networks that archaeologists and individually talented people could only dream of investing in self publicity, but the underlying point remains the same. Build your own value, respect yourself and slowly other people will follow. But if you project a needy exterior people will take advantage of you.

I have seen very interesting mirrors between the film industry and archaeology in the past few years and the ripples made by the bankruptcy of Rhythm and Hues caused an interesting backlash among the CGI community where people banded together to demonstrate both in person and also over social media using green screen referenced avatars to encourage solidarity. The circle of cheaper labour (Also the bane of archaeology projects) and the side effect of an international market ran very skilled and experienced studios into bankruptcy and it took a very drastic series of events (And the condescending attitude of the Oscars) for this to really shake people up. On a smaller scale, the archaeological community is seeing a lack of paid work because of the ease at which people are happy to settle for doing something that they love for nothing, rather than standing firm and rejecting work they would enjoy doing, for financial gain. Furthermore, for the individuals who have actually managed to forge a career working in commercial excavation, terms such as “trench bitches”, or “shovel bums” are common insults aimed to marginalise the efforts of professionals working outside of an academic discourse. This is really where I see a comparison between what happened to the several large studios in the US and archaeology, because it highlights an underlying superiority complex where people actively look to devalue other individuals to justify their current position, or further their own progress.

Stop devaluing each other! Stop devaluing yourself!

Many of these attitudes can be read as defensive measures. People are protective of losing their control, their research, their projects, their connections and lashing out is a somewhat natural response to being backed into a corner. I feel there are traces (Whether subconsciously or not) of this attitude in many areas of heritage at the moment where frequently there seem to be movements that are scapegoated, or manipulated to seemingly (Again whether subconsciously, or intended) protect the all-knowing infallibility of the archaeologist as an institution. As an example the quick development and diffusion of public archaeology has sometimes been used as way to obtain cheap or free help from the community rather than focusing on engagement and empowering those with a close connection to projects alongside paid and recognised archaeological researchers and students. Because of this contradiction, at times it often feels like many of these archaeological movements are not being brought into projects, or funding proposals out of genuine concern for the underlying political/social/technological issues and questions, but instead as a way to fulfill a current, in fashion checklist. This can also be said about many new areas of technology and often they are overused out of hype before the community truly understands the wider context of their application, skill-set or community. The prevalence of photogrammetry is a good example of this mindset and frequently I see it being used because it is being done elsewhere regardless of whether it is actually useful to the end goal, or answers a direct question. Instead it is often applied with the sole intention of providing more perceived worth to a project and the effect is that it is done without true conviction.

Part of the motivation behind actually creating this blog is because I have seen and (I will hold my hands up) contributed to this problem within 3D archaeology. Questions have been raised for years about how realistic graphics should be due to a perceived fear of convincing the public about a reality that ‘could be wrong’, whilst in practice the discourse within archaeology does not reflect this concern and instead actively promotes a scientific wrapper to make the result about unquestionable concepts and not the subjectivity and experience of using the tool-kit that has been chosen.

Personally, I can reflect upon myself going through this exact thought processes during my transition from archaeology into 3D art, where my own articles and interaction with software packages became about justifying ‘physical accuracy’ over the creative process. After being taught to adapt technology into research by archaeologists, it is my experience that a key attraction of unifying external technology with archaeology is the potential to use it to present authority, even when you are borrowing from an established artistic community. Upon reflection, it took me years of communicating with commercial artists to actually retrain my way of thinking and it required immersing myself in the software to realise that it is not an automatic process to achieve the results archaeologists have been afraid of (Photo-realistic rendering for example). There is no ‘make beautiful’ button in the tool-set and when you see something that looks incredible, regardless of the mathematics behind it, it is usually down to a lot of hard work, talent, knowledge and the individual.

I often wonder why people are so afraid of admitting that ‘they’ made a reconstruction, that they might not ‘know’ everything, that they ‘chose’ the camera angles and the colour grading to fulfill a certain look, or outcome (attitudes that are so commonly applauded in the artistic world by people using the very same equipment), instead of making it about the computer, the software and the simulation process? I also question why processes are marginalised to seem as simplistic as pressing a few buttons, when in reality they take years to master and learn. Is the worry honestly about how the public will react, or is it down to a more deep-rooted fear of the competitive nature of archaeology and being academically attacked by your peers the second you admit to making a choice?

I think people who stand up within archaeology and take responsibility for what they do and why they do it should be praised and if collectively we can’t even respect each enough to let individuals grow without actively looking to jump on their every mistake, we are going to have long-term problems. The only way to start protecting ourselves is if we work together and think about the long-term survival of the discipline. Hopefully the emergence of an archaeological charter will at least help to provide some kind of security towards the validity of our profession, which might in turn provide the safety net to allow people to take more responsibility. 

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