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Limit TelephotographyTrevor Paglen

March 13, 2015

In this episode, Trevor Paglen takes photographs for his Limit Telephotography series from the edge of the Tonopah Test Range, a classified military site in the Nevada desert. By attaching a telescope to his camera through a special lens, Paglen is able to photograph military structures and classified aircraft from publicly accessible land many miles away.

Because of atmospheric conditions such as convection waves and dust, the images are distorted and often unidentifiable. As a result, Paglen says he is not only photographing something at an extreme distance but also “photographing the limitations of one’s own vision.”

In referencing the highly descriptive titles he gives to each photograph, Paglen says, “It’s not clear to me that images really mean anything other than the meanings we attribute to them.”

More information and credits


Producer: Ian Forster. Consulting Producers: Wesley Miller & Nick Ravich. Interview: Nick Ravich & Susan Sollins. Camera: Kyle Stryker. Sound: Marcus Goudge & John Zecca. Editor: Morgan Riles. Artwork Courtesy: Trevor Paglen & Metro Pictures. Special Thanks: David Berezin. Theme Music: Peter Foley.

Art21 Exclusive is supported, in part, by 21c Museum Hotel, and by individual contributors.

Closed captionsAvailable in English, German, Romanian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Italian

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Trevor Paglen

Trained as a geographer and photographer, Trevor Paglen makes the invisible visible by documenting the American surveillance state of the 21st century. He photographs distant military facilities, capturing extreme telephoto images of stealth drones; and turning his vision to the night sky, he traces the paths of information-gathering satellites. Mapping the ways in which the convergence of aesthetics, industrial design, and politics influence how we see and understand the world, he shows us images that go beyond straightforward journalistic documentation, giving voice to shifting ideas of the landscape of the American West, humankind’s place in the cosmos, and the surveillance state.

“It’s not clear to me that images really mean anything other than the meanings we attribute to them.”

Trevor Paglen

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Trevor Paglen

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