Trevor Paglen: The Last Pictures

Directing attention toward things and consequence that are unseeable or hidden from sight is a strategy that drives much of Trevor Paglen’s multimedia work. Initially known for atmospheric images that, paradoxically, visualized surveillance sites and technology, Paglen switched gears in 2012 to produce The Last Pictures, a public art project designed not only to outlive the public, but the Earth as well. After consulting with philosophers, scientists, and other artists, Paglen and a team of researchers scoured archives to select 100 photographs to represent life on earth. Then scientists at MIT helped to nano-etch those pictures onto a thin silicon wafer that was bolted onto EchoStar XVI, a communication satellite that, once it outlives its usefulness, will forever orbit the Earth forever in a permanent geostationary orbit. Unlike two “Golden Records” that were carried aloft on Voyager space crafts in 1977—and filled with more upbeat images and texts curated to acquaint intelligent aliens with life on Earth—The Last Pictures offers up uncaptioned and ambiguous images to describe a planet as strongly defined by the challenges its inhabitants face or self-inflict upon each other as it is by their many accomplishments.