|Invisible, Photographs by Trevor Paglen. |
Published by Aperture, 2010.
Reviewed by Jonathan Blaustein
Trevor Paglen Invisible
Photographs by Trevor Paglen. Text by Rebecca Solnit.
Aperture, 2010. Hardbound. 160 pp., 69 color and 8 duotone illustrations, 9-1/2x10-3/4".
Radical transparency is chic at the moment, hence Julian Assange's ridiculous celebrity. I was dubious, at first, about the WikiLeaks firestorm. But then the Tunisian people revolted, in part because they read of their leader's disgusting decadence in some of the cables Assange leaked. So my mind opened.
Trevor Paglen's new book is a visual extension of that determined mission: to make visible the invisible, to do the dirty work and heavy lifting for the lazy masses, content not to know what we don't know. It's a pretty fascinating collection of information, both photographic and written. The opening essay by Rebecca Solnit is a great reminder to me why I'm a photographer first and writer second. It will likely be oft-quoted in the coming years, both for its cutting honesty and intellectual heft.
The book is broken down into compartments that represent Paglen's various conceptual, investigative projects. Some are far more visually interesting than others, and that is the crucial piece of information I must communicate in a fair review of this book. The first and fourth segments, entitled, respectively, "Limit Telephotography" and "The Other Night Sky," are as gorgeous as they are politically important. In the former, Paglen uses astronomy-based optics to capture the innards of off-limits military bases and unofficial black sites buried in the deserts of the American West. He hikes up onto mountain peaks, often at night, to capture the light emanating from miles and miles away, like some photo-geek superhero, all in the name of showing what we're not meant to see. Despite his own admission that his aesthetic choices are limited, the photographs are lovely and haunting. They of course need accompanying text to illuminate their meaning, but text and books do well together.
Jonathan Blaustein is a photographer and writer based in Taos, NM. His work resides in several major museum collections and has been exhibited widely in the United States. For more information, please visit www.jonathanblaustein.com.