Kenyon College

Untitled (Reaper Drone)


Trevor Paglen
(American b. 1974)

Untitled (Reaper Drone), 2013.
48 x 60 inches.

Trevor Paglen’s Untitled 2013 large-format photograph from his Reaper Drone series at first confronts the viewer with the calming blues, pinks, and purples of the sky before the unsettling speck of a drone distinguishes itself in the lower right-hand corner. Mirroring the space drones hold in the public imagination, the image is both distorted and identifiable, harkening back to Turner’s landscape painting, Rain, Steam, and Speed, that depicts a train penetrating through the blurred atmosphere with high speed. The familiar natural setting is rendered abstractedly while the front of the train is in focus, stressing the ambiguous relation between world and technology, as well the presence of a new industrial force in society. Similarly, in Paglen’s photograph the familiarity of the sky is rendered abstractly, and replaced by the presence of the recognizable drone hiding in the corner. Once found the discord between the sky and the drone becomes the focus of the image, transforming the ethereal mood to one disturbed by its mechanical presence. Paglen brings the drone to the surface, visualizing what is normally invisible. Like the intervention of technology in historical artworks, the drone radically changes human perception, as it remains at a distance and a speed that is faster and further than the eye can see. The drone transforms the implications of surveillance and military technology by its ubiquitous presence that is unseen to the naked eye, while it can paradoxically watch us. Paglen removes them from the context of secrecy while at the same time stresses the limit of human vision in a world that is run by technology and political ideology. Paglen’s photograph reminds us that the once free and open sky is now controlled by this new form of government technology that watches over us.

Jessie Alperin `18