Trevor Paglen, Untitled (Reaper Drone), 2012. Chromogenic color print, 49 x 61 inches (124.5 x 154.9 cm). Promised gift of Abigail and Mark Goodman. © Trevor Paglen
Trevor Paglen’s artwork draws on his long-time interest in investigative journalism and the social sciences, as well as his training as a geographer. His work seeks to show the hidden aesthetics of American surveillance and military systems, touching on espionage, the digital circulation of images, government development of weaponry, and secretly funded military projects. The artist has conducted extensive research on the subject and published a series of books and lectures about covert operations undertaken by the CIA and the Pentagon.
Since the 1990s, Paglen has photographed isolated military air bases located in Nevada and Utah using a telescopic camera lens. Untitled (Reaper Drone) reveals a miniature drone midflight against a luminous morning skyscape. The drone is nearly imperceptible, suggested only as a small black speck at the bottom of the image. The artist’s photographs are taken at such a distance that they abstract the scene and distort our capacity to make sense of the image. His work both exposes hidden secrets and challenges assumptions about what can be seen and fully understood.
Paglen’s Untitled (Reaper Drone) enriches the ICA/Boston’s collection of photography and is in productive conversation with works by such artists as Jenny Holzer and Hito Steyerl, which similarly deal with political and economic systems, secrecy, and surveillance.