The subjects of National Trust range from historical structures to political spectacles and media culture, but they are all inextricably tied to appearances. Architectural forms recall the grandeur of Greco-Roman temples, and political rallies exist as meticulously staged theatre sets full of patriotic glitz. These carefully constructed façades can stand for different things, but in a sense they are intended to inspire trust among the citizenry. This trust has been shattered. Skepticism in governance is nothing new, but if public opinion polls matter, the recent level of distrust is remarkable. Trusting and believing those in power, and trusting in the appearances they create, seems like an increasingly difficult act of faith for citizens.
A lack of truth can result in a lack of trust; we have seen this happen with photography. Numerous discussions surrounding the relationship between truth and photography have flooded photographic discourse in recent years, and it has long been established that this relationship is fraught with complications. Furthermore, we live in a time in which more people participate in visual culture than ever, and anyone with even a cursory awareness of this culture knows that photography can be skewed and manipulated for various ends.
Yet, in spite of all this knowledge, we still believe. In an essay about the artist Joan Fontcuberta, Geoffrey Batchen writes that Fontcuberta’s photographic installations explore “how a medium that is indisputably fake ‘from start to finish’ can nevertheless acquire a seductive truthiness in the eyes of its viewers. In particular, Fontcuberta’s work exposes the degree to which the truths we find in photographs are dependent on faith, a mode of belief that transcends both truth and falsehood.” Batchen is pointing to the stubborn persistence of belief in photographs, even in the face of skepticism.1