Trevor Paglen, NSA-Tapped Undersea Cables, North Pacific Ocean, 2016, c-print. Courtesy the artist.
Paglen deals with the materiality of the Internet and the massive data monitoring occurring over its channels. While a metaphor like 'cloud' suggests that the Internet is a ubiquitous entity without place, it nonetheless requires a real and physical infrastructure. The photographs of coastlines point to the places where undersea cables connecting the European and American continents meet the mainland and are tapped by the NSA for the purpose of surveillance. Maritime maps visualize the locations of fiber optic cables to prevent ships from colliding with them. The works are supplemented by NSA documents from the archives of Edward Snowden, corporate documents and photography of the sites.
Paglen learned scuba diving and underwater navigation, venturing to the ocean floor to photograph undersea cables that top-secret documents show are tapped by the NSA. These undersea photographs, composed of deep blue and green color fields punctuated by the unnatural presence of internet cables, are meditations on vision, form, representation and the material networks that invisibly shape our world.
Trevor Paglen, Prowler (Stealthy Geosynchronous Satellite Interceptor; Deployed from STS-38), 2012, c-print. Courtesy the artist.
The Other Night Sky is a project to track and photograph classified American satellites, space debris, and other obscure objects in Earth orbit. The project uses observational data produced by an international network of amateur "satellite observers to calculate the position and timing of overhead transits which are photographed with telescopes and large-format cameras and other imaging devices.
Trevor Paglen, The Counting Station / Cynthia (Numbers Station near Egelsbach, Germany), 2015, c-print. Courtesy the artist.
Trevor Paglen, The Fence (Lake Kickapoo, Texas), 2010, c-print. Courtesy the artist.
The Fence is the colloquial name for a vast and extremely powerful radar system surrounding the United States. It is an electromagnetic border that extends far into space from transmitters in Alaska, California, Texas, Massachusetts, Greenland, and the United Kingdom. The Fence is designed to track spacecraft overflying the United States and to serve as an early warning system to detect ballistic missile launches.
This photograph was produced in cooperation with an amateur radio astronomer in Texas. Because the Fence's microwave frequencies are invisible to human eyes (the Fence is made out of the same electromagnetic waves we call light, but is in frequencies lower than what our eyes can see), the "light" from the Fence was shifted up into a visible spectrum.
Trevor Paglen, Untitled (Sentinel Drone), 2014, c-print. Courtesy the artist.
Traditionally thought of as an extraterritorial space and a symbol of freedom and boundlessness, the sky takes on a different connotation in the photographs of this series . Paglen addresses the sky as a politicized space through his depiction of its colonization by surveillance technologies, such as those used in drones, in the service of national authorities.
Trevor Paglen, X-37B/OTV-3 in Gemini (Orbital Test Vehicle, "Space Plane"; USA 240), 2013, c-print. Courtesy the artist.
The X-37B, also known as the "Orbital Test Vehicle" (OTV-3) is an unmanned, reusable "spaceplane" sometimes described as a "small, top-secret version of the space shuttle." The spacecraft's mission and orbit are highly classified, but the X-37B is said to act as a surveillance platform and a testbed for future military satellites.