Digging up the past

Emily Rasinski

Kent State grad exhibits photos of archeology site

Liz Russell, Kent State graduate and assistant photographer at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, climbs to get a better view of the archaeological dig in Sandusky Bay. Russell’s work will be on display at the museum until August 1.

Credit: Beth Rankin

Archeologists are said to be witnesses of the past, uncovering and writing about events of history and presenting them to the public.

Photographers are witnesses of the present, searching out current issues and events and documenting them visually.

The two professions found a middle ground this weekend in a new exhibit at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.

The exhibit, “Digging the Mystery: Photographs from the Danbury Site,” features photographs of an archeological dig in Sandusky Bay, by Liz Russell, assistant photographer at the museum and Kent State graduate.

Russell, who graduated in 2002 with a degree in photo illustration, said the project taught her a lot about photography and archeology.

“I learned a lot about the archeology process,” she said, “what they do and how hard the work really is.”

The exhibit features several displays containing photographs, artifacts and a brief explanation of each part of the excavation process describing everything from the different types of tools to how the Native American bones were mapped and recorded.

At the entrance to the exhibit is a panoramic view of the excavation site made up of three photographs Russell made with a large format camera.

Jen Smith, a Kent State graduate and archeology enthusiast, has worked on two digs herself. She said the exhibit depicted the daily job of archeologists.

“She really showed what it was like on a dig,” Smith said. “It’s not all glamour like the movies show it.”

According to an article written by Brian Redmond, curator and head of archeology at the museum, remains found on the site date back as far as 2000 B.C. These remains include bones, pottery shards and stone tool fragments from prehistoric Native Americans.

Smith said she enjoyed seeing the excavation from a unique perspective.

“I especially liked the exhibit because it’s the view point of the photographer,” she said. “It captures ordinary moments and makes them extraordinary.”

Russell, who studied commercial photography at Kent State, said photographing the excavation presented new challenges, such as dealing with nature.

“I know I can do what I want in the studio. The conditions are what I want them to be,” she said. “You work with what you are given in journalism (photography).”

The conditions she was given forced her to climb trees, crawl in the dirt and endure the summer heat.

Russell, who has had an interest in archeology since childhood, said she enjoyed the challenges and had fun exploring the site.

“The coolest thing was seeing the burial (grounds) for the first time,” she said. “It was almost like a pile or jumble of bones. You could recognize full skulls.”

Cleveland-based freelance photographer and Kent State graduate Greg Ruffing said he came to support his colleague and was also curious about what the exhibition would show.

“I was curious because I’ve done work in that area,” he said. “I never would have thought this would be in that area.”

Ruffing, who is in the process of developing a project with Russell, said his interactions with her made him want to view the show.

“She was excited about it, and it made me excited about it,” he said. “It’s something that is kind of infectious.”

Contact fine and professional arts reporter Emily Rasinski at [email protected].