A geographer, photographer and documentarian, Trevor Paglen explores and attempts to reveal the clandestine world of US Military 'black ops', and to fill in some of the blank areas on the map. From locating and photographing secret bases, to snatched images of 'extraordinary rendition' flights transporting terror suspects, to patches and insignia from covert military missions, Paglen's output is far from conventional. In fact, despite having gallery representation, he's more like a conspiracy theorist, but a credible one who goes out of his way to play down any wacky theories, and attempts to document as much of this murky world as possible, thus letting his work do the talking for him. He frequently employs absurdly complicated measures to locate and photograph his subject matter: plotting the trajectories of secret US military satellites and taking long exposure shots of the night sky in an attempt to capture their path; shooting a biological weapons proving ground from over 40 miles away, resulting in a blurry, hazy but ultimately chilling image.
Paglen details his findings sporadically on a blog, and word of his work has spread, so he now finds himself receiving anonymous packages from people inside the military world, who seem keen to aid him in his work. The mission patches are particularly fascinating; its been a long tradition in the US armed forces to create a unique patch for each testing mission or project, no matter how top secret, and some of these have found their way to Paglen. The symbolism and graphics on these patches are open to interpretation, and comic as they can look they do invariably allude to what the aim of the mission was. The favoured image of a snarling dragon ensaring the globe is pretty disconcerting, but perhaps somehow fitting - in the days before the world was fully mapped and charted, cartographers used to write 'here be dragons' to mark unknown areas. These unknown, unmapped areas are now deliberate blank spots on maps created by the military machine, and the dragons now represent very different beasts indeed.
Large Hangars and Fuel Storage, Tonopah Test Range, NV. Distance - 18 miles
Chemical and Biological Weapons Proving Ground, Dugway, UT. Distance - 42 miles, 10:51am
Unmarked 737 at Gold Coast Terminal, Las Vegas, NV. Distance - 1 mile, 10:44pm
Milstar 3 in Sagittarius (Inactive Communication and Targeting Satellite; USA 143), 2008
DMSP 5B/F4 from Pyramid Lake Indian Reservation (Military Meteorological Satellite; 1973-054A), 2009
All images © Trevor Paglen