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b. 1974, USA

Trevor Paglen Biography

Trevor Paglen was born in 1974 at an Air Force base in Maryland where his father was an ophthalmologist. He grew up on bases in the USA and Germany. A former prison-rights activist, Paglen's photographs often depict classified military activity. Previous series have featured a National Security Agency's eavesdropping complex, an Israeli nuclear weapons facility and a secret CIA prison. The images are always shot from public land. Consequentially, they are often blurred, sometimes even indecipherable. This tendency is embraced by Paglen as emphasising the secretive nature of the establishments from which he is attempting to gather information.

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Trained in geography and photography, Paglen's photographs investigate the contemporary American surveillance state. However, he does not aim for perfectly crisp images and understands his photos cannot be used as evidence; he instead wants his work to wake the viewer up to what is going on around them, lurking just below the surface. Carefully keeping within the law, Paglen has photographed military facilities, stealth drones and information-gathering satellites. Through a practice that generally encompasses journalism, engineering, history, politics, photography and more, Paglen has explored the accountability or lack thereof of covert or offshore bases and more broadly the relationship between public and private information. While his works usually take the form of large-scale photographic prints, he has also made installations and films. In 2007 he published a book called I Could Tell You but Then You Would Have to Be Destroyed by Me—a collection of photographs of military patches representing various covert projects undertaken by American personnel.

The work of drones has grown more prolific in military activity of recent years and has accordingly increased in presence in Paglen's work. They are interesting to him not only for their murderous power, but for how they rewire methods of seeing and our understanding of distance. Underlying Paglen's process is a determination towards an awareness of what is hidden. In his photographs of drones, the drones are mere dots on beautiful skies. As a viewer it is a struggle to drag your attention away from the stunning view of the clouds, to find that small dot that is the drone. This spot, however, represents surveillance and potentially death, and is dangerous to ignore.

Paglen uses his research and art to gain new perspectives on the contemporary political moment in its historical context, as well as imagining possible futures. With the help of Creative Time and MIT, in 2012 Paglen launched a disc micro-etched with 100 photographs into distant orbit around Earth. The disc is surrounded by a gold-plated shell and is designed to last billions of years. The project acts as a time capsule for future generations or aliens, or perhaps humankind's successor. The Last Pictures, a critical compendium, documents this project and the process of choosing the 100 photographs. Paglen received his BA from University of California, Berkeley, MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and PhD in Geography from University of California, Berkeley. His PhD dissertation was altered and published under the title Blank Spots on the Map: The Dark Geography of the Pentagon's Hidden World. In 2014 he received the Electronic Frontier Foundation Pioneer Award and in 2016 he was awarded the Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize.

Paglen lives and works in Berlin.

Casey Carsel | Ocula | 2017

Trevor Paglen, Bloom (#7a5a4e) (2020) (detail). Dye sublimation print. 175.3 cm × 233.7 cm. © Trevor Paglen. Courtesy the artist.

Trevor Paglen Featured Artworks

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Bloom (#a8866d) by Trevor Paglen contemporary artwork
Trevor PaglenBloom (#a8866d), 2020Dye sublimation print
137.2 x 102.9 cm
Pace Gallery
NSA Surveillance Base, Egelsbach, Germany by Trevor Paglen contemporary artwork
Trevor PaglenNSA Surveillance Base, Egelsbach, Germany, 2015C-print
91.4 x 139.7 cm
Metro Pictures Contact Gallery
The Tower of Babel by Trevor Paglen contemporary artwork
Trevor PaglenThe Tower of Babel, 2012C-print
177.2 x 229.9 cm
Metro Pictures Contact Gallery
NSA-Tapped Undersea Cables North Pacific Ocean by Trevor Paglen contemporary artwork
Trevor PaglenNSA-Tapped Undersea Cables North Pacific Ocean, 2016C-Print
48 x 72 inches
Pace Gallery
Untitled (Predator Drone) by Trevor Paglen contemporary artwork
Trevor PaglenUntitled (Predator Drone), 2013C-Print
48 x 60 inches
Pace Gallery
Image Operations. Op.10 by Trevor Paglen contemporary artwork
Trevor PaglenImage Operations. Op.10, 2018Single channel 4K UHD colour video projection, 5.0 Dolby surround sound, 23 min
Pace Gallery

Trevor Paglen Current & Recent Exhibitions

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Contemporary art exhibition, Trevor Paglen, Bloom at Pace Gallery, London
Open Now
10 September–10 November 2020 Trevor Paglen Bloom Pace GalleryLondon
Contemporary art exhibition, Group Exhibition, SHELTER IN PLACE at Metro Pictures, New York
25 May–1 August 2020 Group Exhibition SHELTER IN PLACE Metro PicturesOnline Only
Contemporary art exhibition, Trevor Paglen, The Shape of Clouds at Pace Gallery, Geneva
4 September–24 October 2019 Trevor Paglen The Shape of Clouds Pace GalleryGeneva

Trevor Paglen Represented By

Metro Pictures contemporary art gallery in New York, USA Metro Pictures New York
Pace Gallery contemporary art gallery in New York, USA Pace Gallery New York, London, Geneva, Palo Alto, Hong Kong, Seoul, Beijing

Trevor Paglen In Ocula Magazine

Gwangju Biennale: Imagined Borders Ocula Report Gwangju Biennale: Imagined Borders By Tessa Moldan, Gwangju

'I have felt persecuted for weeks by this same asphyxiating dream.' So narrates the forlorn Portuguese speaker in Kiluanji Kia Henda's film, Concrete Affection – Zopo Lady (2014), as city scenes and modernist buildings in Luanda flit past the camera's lens. The narration is pulled from Another Day of Life (1971), Polish writer Ryszard...

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Trevor Paglen In Related Press

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Trevor Paglen trains his sights on the rise of machine vision Related Press Trevor Paglen trains his sights on the rise of machine vision 17 October 2019, Apollo

Images are not what they used to be. Or put a little more precisely, images are not for who they used to be for. Known for his in-depth investigations of contemporary state surveillance, the American artist Trevor Paglen has been focusing for the past several years on the rise of machine vision, an expanding realm of images made by machines for...

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600,000 Images Removed from AI Database After Art Project Exposes Racist Bias Related Press 600,000 Images Removed from AI Database After Art Project Exposes Racist Bias 23 September 2019, Hyperallergic

ImageNet will remove 600,000 images of people stored on its database after an art project exposed racial bias in the program's artificial intelligence system. Created in 2009 by researchers at Princeton and Stanford, the online image database has been widely used by machine learning projects.

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Trevor Paglen’s ‘Orbital Reflector’ Asks Who Gets to Exercise Power Over our Planetary Commons Related Press Trevor Paglen’s ‘Orbital Reflector’ Asks Who Gets to Exercise Power Over our Planetary Commons 24 January 2019, Frieze

US photographer Trevor Paglen, best known for his striking images of telecommunications and national security infrastructure, studies 'ungraspable architecture': radio wave transmissions, secret missile ranges, N.S.A. choke points, surveillance and combat drones that alter the very conditions of visibility. His geographic research and photography...

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Artes Mundi 8: Filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul wins £40,000 prize Related Press Artes Mundi 8: Filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul wins £40,000 prize 24 January 2019, BBC News

Indie Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul has won the £40,000 Artes Mundi contemporary art prize. The judges said his film Invisibility was 'a powerful weapon in these turbulent times'. The 48-year-old gave a UK premiere to his dream-like work, projected over two screens and showing two figures rising from their beds in separate rooms....

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