This fall, Philadelphia’s Slought Foundation — an organization dedicated to engaging publics in dialogue about cultural and political change — hosted The Potemkin Project, an exhibition exploring the “falsification of reality in media and new frameworks for civic integrity.” In conjunction with the show, Slought brought Sam Gregory and me together for a gallery talk, “Weapons of Perception,” on November 1, 2019.
Slought had invited me to organize and curate the show, and also show images and films from my stint as Kluge Fellow in Digital Studies at the Library of Congress. This series, titled “Into The Fold Of The True,” features mixed media montage, collage, video, and code-based installation, composed from rephotographed and manipulated war propaganda taken from film and photography collections at the Library of Congress and other museum collections of war and conflict.
Gregory, the Program Director of WITNESS, exhibited materials from his human rights organization’s research into synthetic media and deepfakes. An expert on new forms of misinformation and disinformation as well as innovations in preserving trust, authenticity, and evidence, Gregory leads WITNESS’ global activities — in coordination with technical researchers, policy-makers, companies, media organizations, journalists and civic activists — aimed at building better preparedness for deepfakes.
Below, we present our conversation, edited for clarity and length.
SIGAL: I’ve been interested for many years in the question of how we represent violence. In 1996, I was a documentary photographer based in Russia, and I ended up photographing the Chechen war in Grozny. Over the next 20 years, as I covered and studied violent conflict and worked in news media, I noticed that editors often seek to use images familiar to their viewers. They seek images that respond to specific tropes that they had already predefined as part of their editorial policy. If you made images or suggested stories or narratives that didn’t fit within those preconceived ideas, they tended not to make it into the media.