Artist Snaps Creepy New Photos of the NSA

Digital surveillance looks about as ominous as it feels

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The government is spying on photographer Trevor Paglen—so he’s spying right back. Paglen is known for taking illicit photos of mysterious official compounds like Area 51 and exposing the secret language of Pentagon badges. Now, the artist is training his lens on the NSA in a series of ominous new photos.

Produced in collaboration with the new Glenn Greenwald-led publication The Intercept and commissioned by Creative Time Reports, Paglen’s photos depict looming buildings illuminated at night that look more like server stacks than offices. The NSA’s reflective facade bounces back parking lot lights while the National Reconnaisance Office hulks on the side of a bright highway. The futuristic National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, which is responsible for analyzing imagery, bears a slight resemblance to the Millennium Falcon.

The interesting thing about Paglen’s aerial photographs is that they depict entities that we feel in the abstract. The NSA’s digital dragnet is completely nonphysical; it seems to come from nowhere yet be everywhere. The photographer exposes the real building that it emanates from, creating a target for our feelings of betrayal and paranoia.

“What does a surveillance state look like?” Paglen asks in an essay that comes with the photos. “My intention is to expand the visual vocabulary we use to ‘see’ the U.S. intelligence community…. If we look in the right places at the right times, we can begin to glimpse America’s vast intelligence infrastructure.”

With these new open source images, we can begin to see that digital surveillance looks about as creepy as it feels.

Watch a short documentary on the project below.


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