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Antarctic exposure: archives of the feeling body

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article

Published

Journal publication date04/2007
JournalCultural Geographies
Journal number2
Volume14
Pages211–233
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

This article examines attempts to capture and form knowledge about the Antarctic landscape through expeditionary photography and embodied practice. It begins with a visual piece. As an antidote to contemporary investment in heroic Antarctic narratives, Action Man, Antarctic Inertia takes the original 1970s special issue Antarctic Action Man on another kind of journey, restaging his adventures through the landscape. Concentrating on the excessive expenditure of explorers’ accounts, as opposed to the heroic destinations of the original, this visual mapping considers nonproductive landscape encounters in order to explore other possibilities of staging history and geography. The written essay that forms the second part of this article concentrates on the anxieties of representation that emerge from the interplay between mark making and being marked, and the marks that fall beyond this visual register. Using the metaphor of light, which includes both the light cast on a photographic plate and the dubious physical light of the Antarctic landscape, I examine how this marker both constitutes a trace of history and a fleeting form of knowledge production. As a mode of representation, landscape photography simultaneously illuminates and obscures the histories of encounter with landscape. The argument proceeds by looking at how the photographic frame both arrests landscape and points to a subtle beyond (Barthes). Using narratives from the Heroic era (1890s–1910s) expeditions, I then consider how landscape exposure collides with photographic exposure to present other inhabitations that are in excess of the photograph. In these other narratives, the landscape writes through the body to disrupt the heroic narrative of a contained and purposeful body in the landscape. This Antarctic ‘look back’ ultimately points the way to new geographies of visual culture that expand understandings of the Antarctic landscape. At the same time, by exceeding the visual, this approach provides the grounds for a renewed ethics of engagement with the ability of landscape to inscribe the explorer’s body as he inscribes the surface of the continent through embodied journeys and representational practice. In conclusion, I argue for a reciprocal dialogue between landscape and vision, one that acknowledges that vision is entangled with pain, blindness and excess as much as with a clear sighting of encounter.