New Directions in the Chucalissa Photographic Record

by Katie Maish

I am a photography graduate student in the Art Department at the University of Memphis, and I am also pursuing a certificate in the Museum Studies program. As such, I have had the opportunity to work at the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa. Last semester, through a Museum Studies class I developed a manual illustrating how to digitize cultural artifacts and house these artifacts online as part of a digital repository on Flickr for Chucalissa. Hopefully, this makes these artifacts and related information about them more accessible to the general public as well as researchers.

Sinti bottle - photo by Katie Maish

I sincerely think that my experiences in Museum Studies classes and internships have informed my art work not only in a physical sense (I have shot many images for my personal work at Chucalissa as well as the pottery images) but also in a conceptual and metaphorical way. The physical process of my personal work is methodical but fairly simple. My goal is to document an area in as comprehensive a manner as possible by taking a series of close-up photographs – one by one – over and over until the entire area has been completely photographed. Rather than using a wide angle lens and standing far away, I use a standard 50mm lens and, beginning at the far right of a space, take a series of approximately 12 images from the floor to the ceiling or sky. Then, I turn around and do the same thing for the space behind me. I then take a brief step to my left and repeat the process until the entire space has been documented. This may take from 30 minutes to several hours depending upon the size of the space. However, most of my time is spend in post-processing using Photoshop. Rather than “tiling” these images together, I use a tool that merges sections of these images together. This distorts the shapes within the final composite piece and dissolves the standard rectangular frame we see in photography everyday. Thus, the hundreds (and sometimes thousands) of images I take in one space eventually yield one photograph.

The conceptual underpinning of my work involves memory. Recent research has demonstrated that when we think back to an event from our past, we are not remembering the actual event: we are remembering the last time we remembered that event. This means that our perception evolves continually and that time, place, memory and the spaces in between are constantly in flux. My work intentionally recalls various spaces, but they have undergone a transformation as a result of my digital mediation. There is never a fully realized transformation. Instead, the work exists in a place of movement and process. Since there is a reference to a “real” site, this work can be viewed as personal memory work. I assemble and “remember” these places through intentional fragmentation.

The reason I have chosen the Chucalissa trench as an important site for my work is because it represents my first memory of visiting a museum with my mother. Just as my visual presentation of the trench is fragmented, I remember snippets of my visit: walking through the trench area when it was still open to the public, holding my mother’s hand. I was very interested in jewelry as a little girl, and I remember being thrilled when she bought me a necklace with white and blue beads that I wore for ages. Oddly enough, my memory of the visit is that the gift shop is in the trench. I learned later that this is incorrect: they are two entirely distinct areas at Chucalissa. Over time, I have melded my two most vivid memories of the visit into one, and the fragmentation of Chucalissa Trench, 2012 embodies this process that I find so fascinating.

Contact Katie at

About C.H. Nash Museum

The mission of the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa, a division of the University of Memphis, is to protect and interpret the Chucalissa archaeological site’s cultural and natural environments, and to provide the University Community and the Public with exceptional educational, participatory, and research opportunities on the landscape’s past and present Native American and traditional cultures.
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2 Responses to New Directions in the Chucalissa Photographic Record

  1. Bill Chance says:

    Very interesting entry. I like the idea, “we are remembering the last time we remembered that event” – that explains a lot.

  2. mark howell, director--Winterville Mounds Park and Museum says:

    One thought I had was that you have transformed the visual medium of photography–a static presence–into something akin to music–presenting through time. In fact there is something quite lyrical in your images, they seem to move.

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