Trevor Paglen is a man of many talents: he got his training as a geographer at U.C. Berkeley, co-authored a book on American military planes’ “extraordinary rendition” flights with ProPublica’s A.C. Thompson and has since gone on to a dazzling art career with his otherworldly photographs of things very, very far away in the sky.
For his latest work, “The Last Pictures,” he’s taking a more hands-on approach: launching a disc with 100 photographs meant to represent “modern human history,” per the website, into space.
This is not the first time a disc has entered into orbit above Earth to help aliens figure out what made humans special (after we scorched our own planet, of course). In 1977, with NASA’s approval, Carl Sagan put his Golden Disc into twin satellites, Voyager I and Voyager II. It contained, according to the Smithsonian, “115 analog-encoded photographs, greetings in 55 languages, a 12-minute montage of sounds on Earth and 90 minutes of music” — more specifically, a picture of a pregnant woman, an image of the Golden Gate Bridge, a recording of a man kissing his arm and whale sounds.
While that was a government-approved action by some very earnest scientists, space has gotten a lot more commercial since the ’70s and Paglen’s shot at immortality is a bit more like a publicity stunt. Still, he spent five years interviewing scientists, artists, anthropologists, etc. to select the images in the book/satellite. The disc itself will be affixed to a television satellite originating in Kazakhstan and if all goes well, Paglen’s book orbit Earth for five billion years.