Ghosts? In MY Camera? It’s more likely than you think!

In Film, Guest
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Today we are featuring a guest post from my oldest child who has recently combined their love for film with an interest in ghosts. Kirstin

Photography as a medium is haunted. This is obvious. A photograph attempts to capture a moment in time, even as time moves on around it. Similarly, ghosts are often imagined as people frozen in time, fixed permanently in place at the moment of death, as again time moves on around them. Combining these ideas, is every photograph of a person who has since died a photograph of a ghost? A photograph and a ghost both contain a type of immortality, preserving an instant, but preserving it in a state of fixity that removes the qualities of mortality that make that instant (or person) alive. It is also relevant that the typical visual of what a ghost looks like entered the popular imaginary at the same time as photography—and the eerie faults in the medium—was becoming more widespread. Photography and visual representations of the ghostly have also grown up together. The blurry ‘ghosts’ of early long or double exposures—the ways that early photography could ‘fail’—have a more modern equivalent in static or digital pixelation, often used to indicate the appearance of the supernatural in horror media. 

But this comparison uses a fairly wishy-washy idea of what a ghost even is. This is not the place to get deep into the origins of the term ‘hauntology’ or even offer a definition beyond ‘What If There Was A Ghost?’ but I do think its specific formulation by critic Mark Fisher is surprisingly applicable to double exposure photography. (Also of note is that Fisher argues that haunting is a result of the ‘failure of the future’. In the case of recent trends towards nostalgia, including a resurgence in film photography particularly among a younger generation that grew up with digital cameras, which future was it exactly that ‘failed’? Is trying to return to a (semi-imaginary) past through analogue photography of the present an attempt to resist the collapse of the digital present/future into an instant both captured and shared to the internet in real time? Is the romanticisation of the failings of analogue like lightleaks or accidental double exposures a reaction against the seeming perfection of snapchat filters? Or could it ever be, when the same romanticised effects can be added by snapchat filters? Can you really escape the capitalist hellscape of instagram adverts when film is so expensive?)

Anyway. This is a photography blog. I do not need to explain to you that there are two ways of double exposing a roll of film. I will say that cameras with a dedicated double exposure feature are cowards and also cheating, because if the haunting doesn’t resist the confines of its medium at least a little bit then what is the point. Similarly, exposing the film and then not winding on before exposing it again is easier but more boring and less haunted. Having to take the two (or more) exposures that make up a double exposure in sequence can make an image more or less haunted. It can prevent extreme contrasts between the subject of each exposure, since the photographer is presumably in a similar place when taking each shot, and so the visual evidence of time having passed is less apparent. But the doubling (or tripling) of a single subject can become weird in itself. 

Here is a triple exposure of Red Sands Forts

And it can also make the moment of time-compression startlingly obvious. 

You can see the number of seconds between each exposure on the station clock.

The other method of taking double exposures is by running the same roll of film through the camera twice in sequence. Which can be a lot messier—when I first tried it the two sets of exposures didn’t line up and instead cut one another in half.


But the element of chance also makes this method so much more haunted. In part this is because of the greater difference in time between the two sets of exposures, which allows the haunting as a compression or distortion of time to be more visible.

Back to Mark Fisher, who in his 2012 essay ‘What is Hauntology?’ identifies ‘two directions’ in hauntology. ‘The first refers to that which is (in actuality is) no longer, but which is still effective as a virtuality (the traumatic ‘compulsion to repeat,’ a structure that repeats, a fatal pattern). The second refers to that which (in actuality) has not yet happened, but which is already effective in the virtual (an attractor, an anticipation shaping current behavior).’ This is relevant to photography, I promise. The first direction is fairly self-explanatory. A photograph is haunted through being a slice of the past continuing into the present. The first exposure of two haunts the second by intruding into the future image.

Look! A ghost!

But from trying this method of double exposures last summer, I found the ‘second direction’ in hauntology had a greater impact on how I actually took photographs. During the second set of exposures, it is not that difficult to to remember (or be haunted by!) what is already on the roll, and so to frame your later photographs in ways that might interact with the earlier exposures. The more interesting haunting is in trying to accommodate the future while shooting the first set of exposures. I went through the roll thinking about how best to leave spaces for the future in what was then the present—I found I was haunted more by the absence of the ghost of the future that had yet to occur, than I was later by the presence of the ghost of the past that had already occurred. I experienced the knowledge that there would be a second set of exposures as ‘an attractor, an anticipation shaping current behavior,’ and  ended up taking a lot of photos of windows, imagining that whatever the future might be, it would be able to crawl through them.

This is a window



  1. Love this. Your photos are definitely hauntingly beautiful.

  2. Such an excellent post! These images are magical!

  3. Very cool and will provide at least one fun afternoon of camera play!

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