Fotograf Magazine

Trevor Paglen

How Deep is the Ocean How High is the Sky

American artist Trevor Paglen needs no introduction. He has already gained media attention at the international level, and in the Czech environment, his work has been recently put on the map by his exhibition How Deep is the Ocean How High is the Sky presented at the Fotograf Festival. The curator Jen Kratochvíl defended its retrospective concept saying it was in accordance with the festival theme and the aim to introduce the current trends in arts to the wider public.

This year’s [2017, TN] theme was manipulation through shared data, expressed by keywords such as monitoring, hacking, and spamming, and summarized under the title Eye in the Sky. Paglen’s long-term work was logically included as well, and his exhibition played a central role throughout the festival. Both the exhibition and the festival were supported by the presence of the artist. For example, he took part in a panel discussion that was based on confronting the academic and corporate insights into the issue and part of the accompanying programme.

Paglen is often labelled as a “conceptual photographer”. Although that the central part of his exhibition included photographs on the walls referring to conceptualism in a way, the term is very reductive. Due to the range of Paglen’s artistic and other activities, we may rather say that he is an activist, geographer, essayist, and researcher.

The interpretation of his photographs is usually based on the fact that they are visually reminiscent of impressionism. Like impressionist painters, Paglen reveals what the human eye cannot see in landscapes. His photographs, however, do not capture ephemeral impressions, but reveal the real structure of political power in the form of radars, data storages, military bases, etc. (Limit Telephotography, 2005–2013).

In the gallery, he represented his autonomy with an object in the form of Plexiglass cube, mounted on a pedestal and serving as a box for several computers. The artwork, considered to be a statue, offered an accessible Wi-Fi hotspot any gallery visitor could use. It was not a common Internet connection though. The statue redirected the Wi-Fi users to a tor network that ensured anonymous internet traffic (Autonomy Cube, 2014).

Other projects selected by the curator included the NSA Triptych (2014), Seventeen Letters from the Deep State (2011), and the impressive 89 Landscpes (2015) projection in the lower part of the gallery, including material for the film Citizenfour directed by Laura Poitras.

The selected works by Paglen are most often related to the issue of the political and state power. In his latest projects, Trevor Paglen has shifted his interest to the far greater influence and power of corporations: “… In fact, the National Security Agency (NSA) is far smaller than Facebook, Google, Apple or Amazon.”1 But these themes sounded louder outside the newly opened Fotograf Gallery.


Jan Lesák


  • [online]. [cit. 09/04/2018]. Available at: (1)