Trevor Paglen

Trevor Paglen was born in Maryland in 1973 and lives and works in Berlin, New York, and San Francisco. His work ranges from investigative journalism to video, sculpture, and engineering. Having trained as a geographer and photographer, Paglen particularly documents digital surveillance systems: working from public panoramic spots, he photographs secret military bases, communication intercept stations, combat drones, satellites in the Earth’s orbit, CIA prisons, and even the headquarters of the NSA (National Security Agency), the last image of which dated back to the 1970s; Paglen has placed his photograph in the public domain. His work has appeared in major museums and international biennials.

It Began as a Military Experiment (2017)
Series of prints

Contemporary research in the field of facial recognition techniques began in the mid 1990s by order of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. At the start of that decade, the military authorities established FERET, the database that collected tens of thousands of photographs of people, the majority of which were employed at a military base in Maryland. This work was created by compiling a selection of portraits so as to retouch them and analyse them using an algorithm capable of identifying facial recognition points. The project seeks to reflect on the superstructural qualities of these portraits, produced not for human eyes but for machines. The selection represents some of the ‘original’ faces on which much of later research around facial recognition is based.