Review: Invisible by Trevor Paglen


Book Reviews, Photobooks


If I had to pick just one thing that is profoundly satisfying about Trevor Paglen’s Invisible it is this: Here is a book that is willing to look. That which is invisible in fact often is not invisible at all. Or phrased differently, things can be invisible because we agree to ignore them. Invisible is having none of that. Parts of the invisible world are being made visible. (more)

Invisible contains of a set of different parts, all of which look at activities and/or people that are supposed to make us safer. There is photography of secret military installations - taken with telephoto lenses. As the viewer flips through the pages, the camera gets further and further away, with detail getting hazier and hazier, until there’s just a blur left.

Another part collects photographs of the sky - basically astrophotography - with spy satellites flying past. These satellites orbit the planet at relatively low altitudes so they move rapidly, and they leave distinct trails. Again, if you know where to look, you can see the invisible world in plain view.

Yet another part of Invisible present mission patches, which Paglen deciphers. The invisible world is populated by people like you and me, and the patches reflect this in their often absurd mix of being childish and geeky at the same time. One of the patches even has a smiley face on it. You can’t make such stuff up.

Invisible comes with a very perceptive essay by Rebecca Solnit, which leaves no doubt what you’re dealing with and which explores many of the issues in depth. The combination of Solnit’s essay and Paglen’s work makes this is a book for our time.

Now it’s up to us to look.

Invisible, photography by Trevor Paglen, essay by Rebecca Solnit, 160 pages, Aperture, 2010