Intelligence agencies spy on us, and Trevor Paglen spies on them. His images, on show at the Photographers’ Gallery, shine a light on the shadow world of government surveillance.
Yet, if the NSA is spying on us, Paglen is undoubtedly spying on them. Using the telescopes and lenses of an astronomer, he makes visible the places and objects intelligence agencies want to keep invisible. Though Paglen can only get so close: turning his lens up to the sky or down to the ocean depths, he shoots his subjects from miles away and uses long exposures. The results are often blurry and impressionistic: huge fields of color dominate his canvases. Paglen, then, presents us with a challenge. Don’t be seduced by the beautiful colors and shapes in these images. Look with suspicion: not everything is what it seems.
Most of the world’s internet traffic (95%) travels through garden hoses – or fibre-optic cables – like this one, and the NSA and GCHQ is eavesdropping on many of them. A list of tapped cables was included in the cache of documents Snowden leaked in 2013. Paglen cross-referenced this list with maritime charts to pinpoint locations on the seafloor where these cables are visible. Then he learned to scuba dive.
Read More: The Economist, 1843 Magazine