Ghosts that Possess the “Face”

Table of Contents

Since the invention of photography and cinema, the “ghostly” has been an important element of visual culture. This essay considers how the issue of the “ghostly” has changed in 21st century visual culture, taking representations of the “face” as its point of departure. Analogue photography, which served as the basic medium of images throughout the 20th century, has frequently been discussed in tandem with ghosts. This is because analogue photographs have been said to possess “indexicality,” a concept that classical film theory has relied on in the past. By representing landscapes and objects of reality as material traces, analogue photographic images resemble ghosts, that hypothetical enemy that hovers between life and death. The “face of the invisible man,” which Akira Mizuta Lippit uses as an example of his concept of the “avisual,” also signifies an aspect of ghostly characteristics.
However, it seems that the essence of the “ghostly” in images is being updated through transformations in the media environment――that is to say, the shift from “analogue to digital.” In the midst of these changes, “digital ghosts” that tend to lose their indexicality take on characteristics that allow them to link with living audiences and actual spaces in a loose and multi-layered manner, without the pretense of schematic dichotomies between real and representation as well as presence and nothingness.
In closing, this essay examines digital images of “faces” processed through camera applications, such as “snow,” as the most interesting examples of such digital ghosts. As stratifications of multiple layers, these half-exposed, half-hidden faces reveal the essence of the “ghostly” in contemporary images. Furthermore, such transformations in the image of the “face” raise questions regarding changes in “publicness” through visual media.