“The Other Night Sky”: Seeing and Counterseeing

One summer in 2008, Trevor Paglen and an amateur satellite watcher named Ted Molczan led viewers in a Toronto gallery outside and directed them to look skyward. But their gaze was not aimed at stars, or at least not natural stars; instead, they were trying to locate a classified American reconnaissance satellite, Keyhole-11. Paglen and Molczan have obsessively tracked what the call the “other night sky”, the sky filled with debris from failed space missions and reconnaissance satellites that go all but unnoticed save for a small cadre of skilled amateurs. Ironically, though the US military finds these unwanted observers irritating, the observers were in a sense replicating a militaryfunded program during the Cold War for spotting Soviet satellites. Termed “Operation Moonwatch”, it anticipated the network of Internet-savvy data collectors that Paglen and Molczan would use to find Keyhole-11.1

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Fotograf Magazine #30

Trevor Paglen, Keyhole / Advanced Crystal in Hercules (Optical Reconnaissance Satelite; USA 116), c-print, 60 × 48 in., courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures, 2008
Trevor Paglen, Drone Vision, looped DVD video, 5 minutes, courtesy of the artist, 2010