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Power & PerspectiveTrevor Paglen

March 27, 2015

In this episode, Trevor Paglen discusses two recent photographs at Griffin Editions—a printing studio in New York City. Photographed from the inside of a helicopter, National Security Agency (2013) shows the agency’s rarely-seen headquarters in Fort Mead, Maryland at a “bird’s-eye” perspective.

“I generally don’t like these so-called ‘bird’s-eye’ perspectives,” says Paglen, seeing its value instead as a means to suggest empowerment by the general public over institutions such as the NSA.

Inspired by J. M. W. Turner’s painting, The Angel Standing in the Sun (1846), Reaper in the Sun (2013) depicts a drone aircraft flying above a military base in the Nevada desert. “In the sky, there traditionally is a promise of openness or freedom; but, the sky itself has been turned against us,” says Paglen, who describes the drone as the “punctuation mark.”

More information and credits

See also: Trevor Paglen at Creative Time Reports, February 2014


Producer: Ian Forster. Consulting Producers: Wesley Miller & Nick Ravich. Interview: Nick Ravich & Susan Sollins. Camera: Jarred Alterman & Kyle Stryker. Sound: Marcus Goudge & John Zecca. Editor: Morgan Riles. Artwork Courtesy: Trevor Paglen & Metro Pictures. Additional Footage Courtesy: Marisa Mazria Katz for Creative Time Reports. Special Thanks: Toby Bannister, David Berezin, Griffin Editions, and Mike Vorrasi. Theme Music: Peter Foley.

Art21 Exclusive is supported, in part, by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council; 21c Museum Hotel; and by individual contributors.

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

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Interested in showing this film in an exhibition or public screening? To license this video please visit Licensing & Reproduction.

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 does look like we’re at a shopping mall.

And I struggle with that, because the extent to which the NSA’s tendrils are in our everyday lives, perhaps this perspective is at odds with that.”

Trevor Paglen

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Trevor Paglen

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