Join us on Thursday 2 June at 6pm for a free public lecture by photography scholar Professor Shawn Michelle Smith, as she considers the social power of photography. The lecture is hosted by The Photographic Cultures research group at the University of Sydney and the Photography.Ontology. symposium.



This talk considers Frederick Douglass’ propositions about the social power of photography. Looking back at Douglass’ lecture ‘Pictures and Progress’ through the lens of contemporary artist Rashid Johnson’s homage to the nineteenth-century orator, the talk examines Douglass’ surprising celebration of photography as an objectifying medium. Douglass saw the persistence of photographs as both a conserving and a conservative force, and Johnson’s self-portrait after Douglass testifies to that doubled dynamic. But Douglass also found progressive power in the technology’s capacity to alienate the self, an unexpected position for the formerly enslaved. The talk explores Douglass’ complicated embrace of photography as a medium of objectification as well as progress, as a link to the past as well as the future.



Shawn Michelle Smith is Professor of Visual and Critical Studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She has published five books on the history and theory of photography and gender and race in US visual culture. Her most recent book, At the Edge of Sight: Photography and the Unseen (2013), received the 2014 Lawrence W. Levine Award for best book in American cultural history from the Organization of American Historians, and the 2014 Jean Goldman Book Prize from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Her new book, Photography and the Optical Unconscious, co-edited with Sharon Sliwinski, is forthcoming from Duke University Press. For more about Professor Smith, see this page.



This is a free public lecture with online registration essential. For venue information and to register your attendance, please click here.



Professor Smith’s lecture is co-presented by Sydney IdeasFaculty of Arts and Social SciencesSchool of Literature, Art, and Media (SLAM), School of Languages and Cultures (SLC), and The Power Institute.