2017-05-09
#rp17-Speaker: Trevor Paglen

Trevor Paglen’s work focuses on portraying the shadowy realms of military and intelligence services. Looking for clues about the things that take place behind closed doors, he documents airports, door signs, fibre optic cables and more. Those cables at the bottom of the sea? He's not the first to have an interest in them: the NSA regularly taps into them to intercept mass communications.

Armed with his camera, he travels to spots intended to be overlooked and uses his lens to magnify them beyond recognition. His images of concealed airbases resemble schematics, his aesthetics hint of paint mists à la William Turner, injected with a critique of power politics. Paglen looks at the interplay of geography, visibility and politics.

As a photographer and geographer, he is keen to promote a new form of seeing, orientated along the principles of epistemology. Believing that society in general asks too few questions, he responds: “How do we know what we think we know? What is proof? My photography makes assertions, while at the same time questioning whether it's possible to ever fundamentally assert anything”

Last year, Trevor Paglen showed us his Sight Machine and how image recognition algorithms perceive a string quartet. The Grammy award-winning “Kronos Quartet” played a concert in front of an audience and a row of cameras. The camera feeds were analysed by multiple image recognition algorithms and the results of this analysis, as well as the points in the image that they found to be relevant, were then visualised on the screen behind the musicians. This allowed the audience to not only see what the algorithms thought they were seeing, but also how they interpreted what they were seeing.

In his #rp17 talk “Your Pictures are Looking at You…” on Wednesday on Stage 1, Trevor Paglen will be talking about pictures that no human will ever see, because they have been made by machines for machines. Beginning with smart city traffic monitoring systems over quality control systems in factories, to huge image databases in social networks – pictures are generated in all of these structures that no human will ever see, but which are continuously being combed through by self-learning algorithms. Trevor Paglen sees visual culture at a turning point, where images generated for human viewing are becoming the exception to the rule. In his talk, he will be exploring and illuminating the world of seeing machines, how images go from being passive depictions to active information carriers and demonstrate a few of the dangerous consequences this development entails.

We look forward to Trevor Paglen!

image credit: Trevor Paglen