Do photographs still have the power to change the world? Its impact on visual culture and, moreover, the entire human world, was far greater than simply presenting a new form of image-making. Without photography, mass culture is unimaginable. The principal photography theorists usually evoke is ‘indexicality’—that is, our faith in a photograph’s factuality is based on the direct physical link between the photograph and the person or scene it depicts. As its point of departure, this talk considers Isaac Julien’s video installation, Lessons of the Hour, 2019, and its focus on nineteenth century African American writer and activist Frederick Douglass, himself an early theorist of photography. It considers some key moments in history when the photograph has acted as testimony and asks, what power does photography have in the twenty-first century, in a world of manipulated images and ‘deep fakes’?
Professor Kit Messham-Muir is a theorist of art and visual culture in Curtin’s School of Media, Creative Arts and Social Inquiry, specialising in the art and visual culture of war and political conflict. He is the author of Double War: Shaun Gladwell, visual culture and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq (Thames & Hudson, 2015), co-author of Images of War in Contemporary Art: Terror and Conflict in the Mass Media (Bloomsbury 2021) and the forthcoming The Trump Effect: Populism, Politics, and Paranoia in Contemporary Art and Visual Culture (Bloomsbury 2022).