Author Archives: Tina Kukielski, Curator, Hillman Photography Initiative

About Tina Kukielski, Curator, Hillman Photography Initiative

Tina Kukielski is co-curator of the 2013 Carnegie International, with Dan Byers and Daniel Baumann. Kukielski also holds the newly appointed position of curator of the Hillman Photography Initiative also at the Carnegie, overseeing the initiative’s website, commissioned projects, and a publication in 2014-2015.

Archiving Photographs in Outer Space


Selections from Trevor Paglen’s The Last Pictures: Earthrise photographed by astronaut William Anders, 1968; HeLa cells, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA

The history of photography is no stranger to stories of hidden cachets of photographic negatives discovered haphazardly. Think of the discovery by a real estate agent in Chicago of 100,000 negatives taken by a previously unknown artist, a nanny-cum-street photographer named Vivian Maier whose work is now the subject of much attention and an upcoming documentary.

Artist and photographer Trevor Paglen’s recent project The Last Pictures might be conjuring a bit of the folklore and fanfare true to photography’s past, while at the same time looking to its future. Paglen, an artist and writer who lives in New York, chose a group of 100 photographs and last year, with the help of the public art organization Creative Time, and launched them into space. The idea came up years ago, when Paglen who often photographs the sky—specifically long-exposure photographs centered on satellites that orbit the Earth—began to think about the numbers of dead spacecraft locked in celestial orbit. In some ways, these hunks of metal now upwards of 800 spacecraft might be the longest-lasting artifacts of human civilization. Paglen said, “I started thinking about them not just as spacecraft, but as monuments to the historical moment they emerged from. When we’re gone, they’ll still remain.”


The cover (left) of the Voyager Golden Record (right) presents instructions on how to play the record as well as astronomical information showing the location of Earth. The record includes both audio recordings and analogue images of Earth for extraterrestrials to decode. Source: GRIN (Great Images in NASA)

Carl Sagan with the help of NASA embarked on a similar mission in 1977. Known as the Voyager Golden Record, Sagan and his associates at Cornell assembled a collection of images and sounds (both naturally occurring and language-based, such as 55 different ways to say hello), put them on a record, and launched it into space with the hope of explaining something about human life to extraterrestrials. Something about Voyager and Paglen’s project also suggests the meticulous grouping of visual image clusters edited by Aby Warburg for his now legendary Mnemosyne Atlas in the 1920s.


The protective shell for The Last Pictures project bears markings similar to the Voyager Golden Record, but unlike Voyager’s spatial maps indicating Earth’s location, Paglen’s visual data highlights the date of the project’s creation.

As a visual record, Paglen’s The Last Pictures is something of a diary of our times. The 100 images Paglen chose, or in some cases commissioned, were chosen through a lengthy process of investigation, research, and interviews with scientists, artists, and philosophers. The group was then etched onto one 5-inch ultra-archival silicon disc stored inside a gold-plated aluminum shell and launched into deep space by the EchoStar XVI communications satellite in 2012. The project opens up questions about the meaning of the photograph divorced from its context. But as an act of preservation, it is both generous and hopeful.


Selections from The Last Pictures (clockwise L to R): Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado Springs, Colorado, used by the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and others;  Typhoon, Japan, early 20th century; Waterspout, Florida Keys

Yet The Last Pictures is also based in contradiction. In Paglen’s introduction to the accompanying publication, he points out that on average, a person living in a city sees over 5,000 images a day. Yet most of these images are fleeting and will be lost as the devices that currently cast them across the world at hyperspeed become obsolete. The Last Pictures asks the inevitable question: Apart from the ecological imprint of human activity on this planet, how will we be remembered? And by whom? Paglen doesn’t dare wager that it will ever happen, but as a thought experiment, The Last Pictures is a curious collection of what we look like at the present moment.


Selections from The Last Pictures: Gas Masks, World War I; Operation Crossroads Baker, Bikini Atoll

Interview with Cory Arcangel

Cory Arcangel: Masters opens this weekend—check out this video where Cory and I talk about his newest work, The AUDMCRS Underground Dance Music Collection of Recorded Sound, a collection of over 800 techno LPs, available for listening on turntables in the Carnegie Library in Oakland.

A choice selection of video works of the last ten years will be on view in the museum, including the film Dazed and Confused, re-dubbed by phone bank operators from Bangalore; a supercut video of cats playing the piano; and the now almost-famous modified Super Mario Brothers video game.

Cory will be here at the museum for a live performative artist talk called Selected Single Channel Videos this Friday November 2, 2012 at 6:30 pm. And the best part, its FREE!