Trevor Paglen and Unseen Skies

07 May, 2021

Trevor Paglen and Unseen Skies

BCNM alum Trevor Paglen is the focus of Unseen Skies, a documentary directed by Yaara Bou Melham outlining the role of artificial intelligence and technology.

From The Art Newspaper:

A photograph of the sky by Trevor Paglen can look like a massive abstraction, except for a tiny speck, a surveillance drone, spotted like a malignant dot on a chest x-ray. His images of secluded military sites in Nevada can also ooze with colour from the churning heat and dust. In the new documentary film Unseen Skies, directed by Yaara Bou Melhem, Paglen calls the effect “impressionistic haze”. Photographing those places, often from miles away (or farther), is about “seeing and not seeing at the same time,” Paglen says. “For me those images were about capturing that paradox.”

Read more about the project and review here!

From Art News:

In Yaara Bou Melhem’s film, playing virtually at the SFFilm festival through Sunday, we see Paglen journeying far into canyons in the Southwestern U.S., remote deserts in Australia, and military bases in undisclosed locations. We watch him sail boats through serene rivers; drive across perilously thin roads, even risking a car accident in the process on one occasion; and sleep in his van at night, braving cold nighttime temperatures. In some cases, his journeys only result in one shot that’s up to his standards. Part of this is because of the antiquated technology he uses—for some of the landscape photographs, he relies on chunky camera equipment that refers back to techniques from the 19th and early 20th centuries that put him in line with artists like Carleton Watkins and William Henry Jackson.

Read more of the review here!

From The Moveable Fest:

When history becomes tangible in how it repeats itself, “Unseen Skies” provides something to hold onto as it ventures into increasingly unknown territory, with Pelham overlaying seemingly benign environmental scenes with the data points that computers draw on to make evaluations, misidentifying some objects you might wonder where the confusion lies and estimating a great deal of fear in people who appear quite casual (though there might be some truth in that). Besides an early accounting of his own upbringing on military bases from his father’s service and his subsequent days in the punk rock scene in Berkeley, Paglen remains a largely enigmatic figure, Bou Melham mostly refrains from a biography, instead letting the film take on the spirit of its subject in asking audiences to be as curious as he is about the brave new world we’re collectively stepping into and is every bit as artful in easing one into an uncomfortable yet necessary conversation about the increasingly blurry lines between the physical and virtual world with arresting imagery. Finding an unexpectedly poignant epilogue during the time of coronavirus where everyone largely migrated their lives online — the majority of the film appears to have been shot before — “Unseen Skies” may be about processing overwhelming amounts of information, but it admirably creates the space to take stock of it all.

Read the rest of the review here!