Trevor Paglen – The Last Pictures


University of California Press, ISBN-13: 978-0520275003, 208 pages, 2012, English, USA

The “time capsule” concept is strictly related to an imagination that could be triggered in a future time when an event unfolds content to an unknown audience, generating surprise, interest and unpredictable reactions. This book is more than a mere catalogue and documents an ambitious work. Paglen’s “The Last Picture project”, in fact, is about his selection of 100 photographs from the past century (a few of them are his own) that were etched on a silicon disc (encased in a gold-plated shell), and attached to an EchoStar XVI communications satellite, sent to orbit the Earth. As in previous works the author raises a number of issues: discussing the duration of the photographic experiment (hundreds, thousands, billion of years?) and his ambitious aim to represent contemporary human complexity is approached with a very personal and at the same time universal eye, which visually “mutes” singularities. Paglen is able to play conceptually with geography and art with the attitude of a poker player. He is able to raise expectations or flatten the playing field, create tension or simply just exit as he combines artworks of different forms. Finally, there’s the specific role of this book, as such. Technically speaking it is a luxury version of the content sent to outer space, printed on a reasonably durable but still ethereal medium. It seems to reflect the unbalanced digital/print preservation ratio, but in an undefined and visionary way.