Tag Archives: Trevor Paglen

Brighton Photo Biennial 2012 – Trevor Paglen’s Geographies of Seeing show podcast with Lighthouse director Honor Harger

Lighthouse director Honor Harger. Photo © Wendy Pye

Social scientist, artist, writer and provocateur Trevor Paglen uses photography to explore the secret activities of the U.S. military and intelligence agencies. For me, Geographies of Seeing was one of Brighton Photo Biennial’s to-see shows, not least for Paglen’s multi-dimensional approach to his subject matter. Who could resist taking time to look at the work of someone who is described as a ‘provocateur’, especially as I first saw some of this work at Frieze art fair a few years ago and was intrigued back then.

On the press tour of the show I got a chance to discuss the work with Lighthouse director Honor Harger who provides an informed and articulate insight into Paglen’s work in the audio podcast below. Click on the link below and then again on the link, it goes green as you rool over it, in the next page. It is 17mins 26secs long.

HonorHarger_discusses_TrevorPaglen_show

Trevor Paglen Geographies of Seeing Photo © Wendy Pye

“The Other Night Sky uses data from an international network of amateur satellite watchers to track and photograph classified spacecraft. Echoing the efforts of historic astronomers, Paglen documents astral movements that don’t officially exist.

Trevor Paglen Geographies of Seeing Photo © Wendy Pye

“In the series Limit Telephotography Paglen adapted the super-strength telescopes, normally used to shoot distant planets, to reveal top-secret U.S. governmental sites, sometimes 65 miles away from his camera; covert bases, so remote they cannot be seen by an unaided civilian eye from any point on Earth.

 Show photos above. Photo © Miranda Gavin

“Paglen coined the term “Experimental Geography” to describe practices coupling experimental cultural production and art-making with ideas from critical human geography about the production of space, materialism, and praxis. His work, such The Other Night Sky has received widespread attention for both his technical innovations and for his conceptual rigour. He is also author of three books including Torture Taxi (2006), the first book to comprehensively describe the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program, I Could Tell You But Then You Would Have to be Destroyed by Me (2007), which is a look at top-secret military programmes, and Blank Spots on the Map: The Dark Geography of the Pentagon’s Secret World, which is a broader look at secrecy in the United States.

Honor and I at the show. Photo © Wendy Pye

“Paglen (born in 1974) is an American artist, geographer, and author, currently based in New York. His work deliberately blurs lines between science, contemporary art, journalism, and technology to construct unfamiliar, yet meticulously researched ways to see and interpret the world around us. He has been exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Tate Modern, London; The Walker Arts Center, Minneapolis; The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh; Institute for Contemporary Art, Philadelphia; The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, North Adams; the 2008 Taipei Biennial; the Istanbul Biennial 2009, and numerous other solo and group exhibitions.” From press release. Presented and curated in partnership with Lighthouse.

Filed under: Artist Talks, Photographers, Photography Festivals, Visual Artists Tagged: brighton, Brighton Photo Biennial 2012, experimental geography, Geographies of Seeing, Honor Harger, Lighthouse, photo show, space photography, Trevor Paglen

The Last Pictures Travel to Space by Trevor Paglen

Later this year, a communications satellite called the EchoStar XVI will be launched from Kazakhstan. The 14,500 lb. spacecraft is predicted to work for about 15 years. It will then continue to float 19,000 miles above Earth’s sea level, in a geostationary orbit that is so stable that the satellite will be there as long as there’s an Earth.

Hundreds of these dead satellites are orbiting us already, comprising what is essentially a floating junkyard that will endure well past human extinction, possibly for four billion years, when the earth is swallowed by its dying sun. What makes EchoStar XVI unique is not the unfathomable depths of time it will vault, but the fact that it will carry an art project.

Artist Trevor Paglen is fascinated by the notion that these spacecraft will be the most enduring relics of human civilization. When invited by the public art organization Creative Time to make a project about space, he proposed to somehow send up images with a satellite, and that those images would be “a story about what happened to the people who build the great ring of dead machines around Earth.” The project, The Last Pictures, rolls out in New York next week, ending a five-year journey.

Paglen micro-etched 100 photographs onto a silicon disc encased in a gold-plated shell.

Though Paglen admits that it’s unlikely that the images will ever actually be discovered by yet-unknown future aliens, he took seriously the science that would make it even remotely possible. At an artist’s residency at MIT, he worked with scientists who developed a hyper-archival, gold-plated disc, on which pictures are micro-etched. He also took seriously the question of which images should be sent up, assembling a research team and interviewing anthropologists, artists and scientists.

In the end, the EchoStar XVI will launch, bearing 100 images into the depths of time. What are they? “The images are not meant to be a grand representation of ‘mankind’ or a portrait of humanity. Instead they are a montage about a civilization that finds itself in a moment of deep uncertainty about its own future,” says Paglen.

Sourced from governmental agencies, libraries and artists (including Paglen’s own work), many of the 100 undated pictures circle around the topics of science, technology and the environment. Many suggest that the miraculous scientific and technological advances mankind has achieved—the very ones that enabled us to launch a satellite that will orbit for millennia—are the means to our end.

Other images seem spectacularly random: One picture shows gloved hands holding Leon Trotsky’s brain, while “A Study in Perspective” by Ai Wei Wei shows the dissident artist flipping the Eiffel Tower the bird. Extended captions to many of these images are available to us in a catalogue, but one wonders how the future aliens would make any sense of them. The inscrutability of these images happens to also be part of the point.

The sometimes oblique images chosen for The Last Pictures were partly inspired by the mysterious visual remnants of ancient civilizations, like the cave paintings in Lascaux, and the moai, for which Easter Island is famous. Those artifacts have never entirely yielded their meaning, and yet they were made relatively recently, in terms of the “deep time” of space. “The notion that the message could actually mean anything at all seems ridiculous…but the probability of people on Earth thinking about it here and now is guaranteed,” writes Paglen in the book that accompanies the project.

And it’s true. It seems inherently valuable, if desperately sad, for us to visualize a time when we won’t exist. The processes, with which we are making ourselves extinct, are still ongoing, after all.

The first public event for The Last Pictures, which takes place today, will feature a reading by Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Tracy K. Smith, as well as a conversation between Paglen and the famed filmmaker Werner Herzog, whose recent Cave of Forgotten Dreams was about the caves of Lascaux. The two will discuss cultural artifacts, civilization and space exploration. The event is New York City’s Bryant Park—fittingly, under the stars.

Joanna Lehan is assistant curator at the International Center of Photography, and was editor of Paglen’s book, Invisible: Covert Operations and Classified Landscapes, which you can see here on Lightbox.

The Last Pictures is published by Creative Time Books and the University of California Press.

Trevor Paglen and The Last Pictures

© Trevor Paglen

Over the course of photographing for what would become his 2010 monograph Invisible: Covert Operations and Classified Landscapes, Trevor Paglen spent years tracking the orbit of American military spacecraft and documenting their ghostly trails across the night sky. The resulting images (which also appeared in Aperture # 191) were as much about photography itself—exploring the power and the limits of photographic knowledge—as they were meditations on the relationship between humankind and the infinite. In a fascinating evolution of this work, Paglen is now behind The Last Pictures, a project that will attach a record of human photographic images onto a satellite that will be sent into orbit in September 2012. Paglen spent five years interviewing scientists, artists, anthropologists, and philosophers to decide what images should compose this photo-historical record, and then worked with materials scientists at MIT to inscribe the 100 images he chose onto an “ultra-archival” silicon disc (not unlike the Pioneer Plaques and the Voyager Golden Record) that will be attached to EchoStar XVI. This satellite will function as a regular television satellite for the next fifteen years before powering down, entering a “graveyard orbit,” and remaining for billions of years as a photographic relic of modern human civilization for future civilizations and lifeforms to discover. And perhaps it will even show up in one of Paglen’s future photographs.

Here on earth in the year 2012, you can catch Paglen’s lecture tour (beginning September in New York) featuring philosophers and scientists discussing the project. Later this year, Creative Time will publish a book of the images, accompanied by short texts by those who contributed to the project. For more on Paglen and his work, visit his website.

Intimacy and Voyeurism: The Public / Private Divide in Photography


The SPE National Conference in San Francisco is officially sold out, but if you are among the early registration crowd gaining access to 2012′s programming—this year, exploring “Intimacy and Voyeurism: The Public/Private Divide in Photography—be sure to join Aperture Foundation in exhibition Booth #31 beginning this Thursday.

Keynote speaker Sally Mann, known for her evocative work with portraiture and landscapes, will give a presentation with a selected reading from her forthcoming memoir, If Memory Serves. Following the presentation, Mann will be signing copies of her books, The Flesh and the Spirit (Aperture 2010), Immediate Family (Aperture 2005), Proud Flesh (Aperture 2009) and Still Time (Aperture 2008).

Other speakers include: Sharon Olds, Trevor Paglen, Sandra S. Phillips, Hasan Elahi, Bill Adams, and many more.

The Society for Photographic Education is a nonprofit membership organization that provides a forum for the discussion of photography-related media as a means of creative expression and cultural insight. Through its interdisciplinary programs, services, and publications, the society seeks to promote a broader understanding of the medium in all its forms, and to foster the development of its practice, teaching, scholarship, and criticism.

Thursday, March 22, 2012–Saturday, March 24, 2012

Hyatt Regency
Booth #31
San Francisco, California
(415) 788-1234

Friday Hours: 9:00 am–4:00 pm
Saturday Hours: 9:30 am–4:30 pm
Exhibition Hall is FREE

Thursday, March 22, 7:00–8:30 pm
Keynote Presentation and Book Signing: Sally Mann
Grand Ballroom

Friday, March 23, 5:30–7:00 pm
Featured speaker: Trevor Paglen, author of Invisible: Covert Operations and Classified Landscapes (Aperture 2010)
Grand Ballroom

The Flesh and the Spirit (Aperture 2010), Immediate Family (Aperture 2005), Proud Flesh (Aperture 2009) and Still Time (Aperture 2008) by Sally Mann are available for purchase here. Invisible: Covert Operations and Classified Landscapes (Aperture 2010) by Trevor Paglen is available for purchase here.