Ghost writing: photographing (the) spectral north

Gina Wall

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Abstract

This paper explores photography’s spectral nature in relation to the concept of difference, as theorised by Jacques Derrida. What emerges is a way of thinking about photography as a kind of ghost writing. Derrida’s assertion of the importance of photography’s idiomatic logic is actively applied here to perceptions and representations of north. We are alerted to the instability of north by the various definitions currently in use by the Ordnance Survey in Great Britain. This allows us to think about north in terms of the disruption of self-identity found at the core of Derrida’s thinking about photography and to understand differential north via photography’s spectral logic, which ‘traces a relation of haunting’ between the opposition north/south. In addition, Magnetic North is unlocatable in any permanent sense given that it is constantly moving and problematised by our mistaken conventions of naming. The spectral north emerges as a productive term which resonates with specific landscapes on the periphery of Britain. In these landscapes, which contain the remains of wartime defences, the irruption of the past is keenly felt, producing unsettling experiences for the visitor. I present photographic fieldwork from these wartime coastal batteries and consider both the images and place in terms of Tim Edensor’s ‘mundane spaces’ where the trace of the spectre is free to roam. These inscribed landscapes, archives in a sense, are complex imbrications of different timeframes and historic resonances. They provide a particularly fertile location for a medium such as photography, given its peculiar relationship with time.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)238-248
Number of pages10
JournalVisual Studies
Volume28
Issue number3
Early online date4 Oct 2013
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2013

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