Trevor Paglen

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Trevor Paglen
Alma mater

Trevor Paglen (born 1974) is an American artist, geographer, and author whose work tackles mass surveillance and data collection.[1][2]

In 2016, Paglen won the Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize[3] and he has also won The Cultural Award from the German Society for Photography.[4] In 2017, he was a recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship.

Early life and education[edit]

Paglen earned a B.A. degree in religious studies in 1998 from the University of California at Berkeley, a M.F.A. degree in 2002 from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and a Ph.D. in Geography in 2008 from the University of California at Berkeley.[5]

While at UC Berkeley, Paglen lived in the Berkeley Student Cooperative, residing in Chateau, Fenwick, and Rochdale co-ops.[6]


Sean O'Hagan, writing in The Guardian in 2015, said that Paglen, whose "ongoing grand project [is] the murky world of global state surveillance and the ethics of drone warfare", "is one of the most conceptually adventurous political artists working today, and has collaborated with scientists and human rights activists on his always ambitious multimedia projects."[2] His visual work such as his "Limit Telephotography" and "The Other Night Sky" series have received widespread attention for both his technical innovations and for his conceptual project that involves simultaneously making and negating documentary-style truth-claims.[7] The contrasts between secrecy and revelation, evidence and abstraction distinguish Paglen's work. With that the artist presents not so much "evidence" as admonitions to awareness.[8][9]

He was an Eyebeam Commissioned Artist in 2007.

In 2008 the Berkeley Art Museum devoted a comprehensive solo exhibition to his work. In the next year, Paglen took part in the Istanbul Biennial, and in 2010 he exhibited at the Vienna Secession.[10]

Autonomy Cube was a project by Paglen and Jacob Appelbaum which placed relays for the anonymous communication network Tor in traditional art museums.[11][12]

Paglen is featured in the nerd culture documentary, Traceroute (2016).

Orbital Reflector was a reflective, mylar sculpture by Paglen intended to be the first "purely artistic" object in space. The temporary satellite, containing an inflatable mylar balloon with reflective surface, launched into space 3 December 2018.[13][14]

A mid-career survey in 2018–2019, Trevor Paglen: Sites Unseen, was a traveling exhibition shown at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington DC and Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego.[15][16]

In September 2020, Pace Gallery in London held an exhibition of Trevor Paglen's work, exploring 'the weird, partial ways computers look back at us'.[17]

His work is included in the permanent collections of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art,[18] Columbus Museum of Art,[19][20] and Metropolitan Museum.[21]

Experimental Geography[edit]

Paglen is credited with coining 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. The 2009 book Experimental Geography: Radical Approaches to Landscape, Cartography, and Urbanism is largely inspired by Paglen's work.[22]


Paglen has published a number of books. Torture Taxi (2006), (co-authored with investigative journalist A. C. Thompson) was 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), is a look at the world of black projects through unit patches and memorabilia created for top-secret programs.[23] Blank Spots on the Map: The Dark Geography of the Pentagon's Secret World (2009) is a broader look at secrecy in the United States.[24] The Last Pictures (2012) is a collection of 100 images to be placed on permanent media and launched into space on EchoStar XVI, as a repository available for future civilizations (alien or human) to find.[25]

Publications by Paglen[edit]

  • I Could Tell You But Then You Would Have to be Destroyed by Me. Brooklyn, NY: Melville House, 2007. ISBN 1-933633-32-8.
  • Blank Spots on the Map: The Dark Geography of the Pentagon's Secret World. New York: Dutton, 2009. ISBN 9781101011492.
  • Invisible: Covert Operations and Classified Landscapes, Photographs by Trevor Paglen. New York: Aperture, 2010. ISBN 9781597111300. With an essay by Rebecca Solnit.
  • The Last Pictures. Oakland, CA: University of California, 2012. ISBN 9780520275003.
  • Trevor Paglen. London: Phaidon, 2018. ISBN 0714873446. With essays by Laren Cornell, Julia Bryan-Wilson, Omar Kholeif.

Publications co-authored[edit]

Publications with contributions by Paglen[edit]

  • Experimental Geography - Radical Approaches to Landscape, Cartography, and Urbanism. Brooklyn, NY: Melville House, 2009. ISBN 978-0091636586. Edited by Nato Thompson. With essays by Paglen, Thompson, and Jeffrey Kastner.
  • Trevor Paglen and Jacob Appelbaum - Autonomy Cube. Revolver, 2016. ISBN 978-3957633026. Essays by Luke Skrebowski and Keller Easterling on Autonomy Cube, a piece of sculpture by Paglen and Jacob Appelbaum. In English and German.


Paglen has shown photography and other visual works.


Films about Paglen[edit]



  1. ^ Gamerman, Ellen (12 September 2013). "The Fine Art of Spying". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 26 October 2015.
  2. ^ a b c O'Hagan, Sean (5 November 2015). "Deutsche Börse photography prize shortlist: drones v the women of Tahrir". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 27 April 2016.
  3. ^ a b Violet Bramley, Ellie (5 November 2015). "Trevor Paglen's drone photography wins 2016 Deutsche Börse prize". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 27 April 2016.
  4. ^ a b "The Cultural Award of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Photographie (DGPh)". Deutsche Gesellschaft für Photographie e.V.. Accessed 7 March 2017.
  5. ^ "Trevor Paglen". MacArthur Foundation.
  6. ^ Loh, Madeline. "Alumni in the News" (PDF).
  7. ^ Keenan, Tom. "Disappearances: The Photographs of Trevor Paglen" Aperture, No. 191. Summer 2008
  8. ^ "6 November 2013". Süddeutsche Zeitung.
  9. ^ Greenberger, Alex (8 June 2016). "Trevor Paglen". ARTnews. Retrieved 30 August 2020.
  10. ^ "Trevor Paglen, November 26, 2010 – February 13, 2011". Secession. Retrieved 30 August 2020.
  11. ^ Helfand, Glen (2015-03-13). "Trevor Paglen review: turning the NSA's data combing into high-concept art". The Guardian. Retrieved 2016-05-25.
  12. ^ Sharp, Rob (2016-02-10). "Art, Technology and Online Identity". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2016-05-25.
  13. ^ Knapton, Sarah (August 12, 2018). "Heavens to shine with new 'star' as first space sculpture prepares for launch". The Telegraph. ISSN 0307-1235.
  14. ^ Sohn, Timothy (November 28, 2018). "SpaceX Is Launching a Piece of Art Into Orbit". Wired. ISSN 1059-1028.
  15. ^ Catlin, Roger. "This Artist Dwells in the Clandestine World of Classified Secrets and Surveillance". Smithsonian Magazine. Retrieved 2020-08-17.
  16. ^ "Trevor Paglen in Washington, D.C." Apollo Magazine. 2018-07-16. Retrieved 2020-08-17.
  17. ^ "Textures of Life, Death, and Data in Trevor Paglen's 'Bloom'". 2020-11-25. Retrieved 2020-11-25.
  18. ^ "Trevor Paglen · SFMOMA".
  19. ^ "Columbus Museum of Art acquires Andy Warhol and Trevor Paglen works of art".
  20. ^ "Embark Collection". 2016-01-27.
  21. ^ "KEYHOLE IMPROVED CRYSTAL from Glacier Point". Metropolitan Museum of Art. 2008. Archived from the original on 2021-07-09. Retrieved 27 May 2023.
  22. ^ Smallwood, Christine (2009-01-28). "Back Talk: Nato Thompson". The Nation. ISSN 0027-8378. Retrieved 2021-10-28.
  23. ^ Logos offer a guide to secret military programs, International Herald Tribune, April 2, 2008.
  24. ^ Paglen, Trevor "Blank Spots on the Map: The Dark Geography of the Pentagon's Secret World" New York: Dutton, 2009
  25. ^ "The Book".
  26. ^ Trevor Paglen show at Bellwether Gallery in 2006
  27. ^ "Still Revolution: Suspended in Time". Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art. 28 April 2009. Retrieved 2 September 2016.
  28. ^ Trevor Paglen show at Lighthouse in 2012
  29. ^ "Geographies of Seeing".
  30. ^ "Trevor Paglen at Lighthouse in Brighton". Wired. 2012-10-07.
  31. ^ O'Hagan, Sean (16 August 2012). "Political, provocative, personal: photography to look forward to". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 14 September 2016.
  32. ^ "Trevor Paglen | Altman Siegel".
  33. ^ Helfand, Glen (2015-03-13). "Trevor Paglen review: Turning the NSA's data combing into high-concept art". The Guardian.
  34. ^[exhibition]=198&tx_kdvzerhapplications_pi4[action]=show&tx_kdvzerhapplications_pi4[controller]=Exhibition
  35. ^ "The Artist Using Museums to Amplify Tor's Anonymity Network". Wired. April 2016.
  36. ^ "Radical Landscapes". January 2016.
  37. ^ "Nehmt ihnen die Bilder wieder weg!" Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung 20 March 2016: page 47.
  38. ^ "Trevor Paglen - Exhibitions - Metro Pictures".
  39. ^ "EFF Pioneer Awards 2014".
  40. ^ "Meet the 2017 MacArthur Fellows". MacArthur Foundation. Retrieved 19 October 2017.
  41. ^ "Trevor Paglen Wins 2018 Nam June Paik Art Center Prize". 2 November 2018.

External links[edit]