Institute of Archaeology


Stuart J.A. Laidlaw (1956-2019)

13 January 2020

Further to the Director’s email to Institute of Archaeology staff and students on Monday 25 November, we are very sad to announce the death of Stuart Laidlaw.

Stuart Laidlaw (1956-2019)

Stuart was a greatly esteemed colleague at the Institute of Archaeology for 40 years and at the time of his death in November 2019 was the ‘Institute’s Photographer.’ Joining the Institute in 1979, Stuart worked closely with Peter Dorrell and, following his retirement, began his teaching of archaeological photography and illustration. As Lecturer in Archaeological Photography, he was an exemplary teacher of practice and taught many cohorts of undergraduate and graduate students in archaeological photography, latterly including digital imaging techniques.  

Stuart was always a clear champion of students and strove to make their experience at the Institute an enjoyable, as well as a productive, one. It was no surprise when he received a UCLU Student Choice award for Outstanding Support for Teaching in 2013/14, awards which celebrate outstanding teaching and recognise those that support students in their learning at UCL.  The awards are completely student led - students determine the award categories, set the criteria, nominate the potential awardees and decide who wins the awards.

Stuart’s work at the Institute took him to a variety of locations including Libya, Greece, Belize and Russia. He ran short courses on Digital Photography, for the International Association of Photographers for 25 years in London, and around the world including Sri Lanka, Tenerife, and at UCL-Qatar. His research interests included the evolution of new techniques in archaeological photography and he was always ready to experiment with new technology. He was central to the current refurbishment of the Photographic facilities at the Institute and won (with Sandra Bond) a UCL Sustainability Gold Award for the photography studio.

While Stuart participated in, and supported, the research of other Institute staff, including recent work on the making of the Terracotta Army, his major focus was the Ivories from Nimrud, working with Georgina Herrmann and Helena Coffey on this series of publications which provide a seminal photographic documentation of an Iraqi heritage that has now suffered so much destruction.  He was working on the final, 8th volume of the series at the time of his death.

According to Sue Hamilton, Director of the Institute of Archaeology:

Stuart was an active custodian of the photographic record of the life, and work of the Institute – encompassing both pictures and equipment, from our beginnings to the present. This was a herculean task of identifying photographs and slides, and he expended huge amounts of energy digitizing this record for posterity. He was one of the most generously-spirited people, liked by all and always available to assist everyone who sought out his expertise and skill.

Our thoughts continue to be with Stuart’s family and friends at this difficult time.

A memorial event is planned, to be held at the UCL Institute of Archaeology, in the Spring. Current and former Institute staff and students are most welcome to share their stories, memories and photographs of Stuart with us.
(Please contact Jo Dullaghan, j.dullaghan@ucl.ac.uk in this regard).

Institute staff and student memories of Stuart are too many to list here, for now a small selection:
 “There was no one who could match Stuart for kindness, generosity, and support. He photographed our carved monuments in Belize, and was always ready to lend a hand with photographic recording in general. I considered him a most excellent friend. My old 4th floor office was next to his, and whenever I felt down or overwhelmed, I’d pop in, and he always knew how to make me laugh. He was upbeat, and had a wonderful sense of humour. To say he will be missed is an understatement.”
“I had the pleasure of travelling to Jerusalem and Jericho with Stuart as part of preparation for the exhibition 'A Future for the Past' involving the Petrie Palestinian collection. Not only was Stuart an utterly fabulous travelling companion with his own unique brand of humour, irony and affectionate teasing but when we got to Jericho you could see his immense pleasure as he recognised all the images taken of Kenyon's excavations from the 1950s onwards. We spent well over 2 hours in the hottest weather with Stuart photographing comparative shots of the site. This showed his ongoing deep commitment to the IoA, his depth of knowledge and enthusiasm, and him proudly seeing himself as part of a genealogy of IoA photography staff creating and caring for the photography collections. It is a memory I certainly treasure.”
“It is fair to say that there is a very large Stuart-sized hole on the 4th floor of the Institute building and we all greatly mourn his passing.”
“Stuart had a huge personality and a tremendous knowledge of photography. I miss him as everyone does.”
“Stuart was an excellent photographer and great teacher who ran a friendly studio with humour and patience. I will miss his stories and jokes and choice of music. Last year together we won a UCL Sustainability Gold Award for the photography studio and we worked closely on preparing and designing the new studio selecting a sustainable cork floor and neutral colour scheme and retaining much of our historic equipment.”

The very apt reading from Stuart's funeral service is reproduced here:

A Successful Man
Bessie Anderson Stanley

That man is a success
Who has lived well, laughed often and loved much;

Who has gained the respect of intelligent men
and the love of little children;
Who has filled his niche and accomplished his task;
Who leaves the world better than he found it;
Who has never lacked appreciation of his family and friends
or failed to express it;
Who looked for the best in others and gave the best he had.