Via We Me Make Money Not Art, a conversation with artist Trevor Paglen, who acts as a modern-day discoverer, travelling the globe attempting to photograph the last “uncharted territory” — classified locations such as the CIA’s rendition sites:
For his Limit Telephotography series, Paglen used high powered telescopes to picture the “black” sites, a series of secret locations operated by the CIA. Often outside of U.S. territory and legal jurisdiction, these locations do not officially exist, they range from American torture camps in Afghanistan to front companies running airlines whose purpose is to covertly move suspects around.
Paradoxically Paglen’s images deepen the secrecy of their subject rather than uncover it. Limit-telephotography most closely resembles astrophotography, a technique that astronomers use to photograph objects that might be trillions of miles from Earth. Paglen’s subjects are much closer but also even more difficult to photograph. To physical distance, one has indeed to add the obstacle of informational concealment.
I’ve finally decided to catch up with him and interviewed him via skype:
We have this idea that secrecy is this perfectly oiled machine but the secrecy system is not all that organized. Also we imagine that there is one single brain orchestrating secrecy behind the whole State but this is not the case. Lots of things are contradicting each other. The secrecy system is internally inconsistent but also incoherent.
lot of the infrastructure of the rendition program had to be modified because of the way journalists, human right activists and researchers have turned it into a political issue and made it public. But now we have the drone assassination programs which are a kind of version 3.0. of the rendition program.
I can only talk from an American perspective. The Black World is a State that is inside the State and it works differently. It’s monarchic in the sense that it’s not a democracy. It is run by generals and ultimately by the President. There’s very little overview of it by other parts of the government and obviously by the people. It has a tendency to change everything around it to its own image.
For example, if you want to build a secret plane then you need first a secret factory to build it. Thousands of workers and managers will be working in that plane factory, they have to swear secrecy and you have to ensure that they will indeed keep the secret. That means that social engineering will also have to be organized. All this will require a lot of money which you obviously can’t get from the congress. So you have to find ways to fund your project without ever telling anyone how you’re going to use that money. Once you have the planes, you need a secret airbase. But how do you create a place on the surface of the Earth that will remain secret? So you build that place and claim that it doesn’t exist. Everything you do is outside of the court system so you also need to set up new laws which are actually not even laws since they haven’t been voted by the congress. So you start to create your own laws and legislation. Over time, the rest of the State starts to look more and more like the secret part of the State. It’s that structural organization that people should be concerned about, because illegal things are bound to happen where there is no oversight. That’s what happened with the rendition flights and torture program and recently with the drone assassination program.