“The Last Pictures” is a photographical art project created by Trevor Paglen that is composed of one hundred photo records of our contemporary civilization meant for the post-humanity world.
This modern archive was sent to space on a communications satellite EchoStar XVI in November 2012.
Amidst outstanding critical world concerns, such as pollution and global warming, there is a real realization that humanity on earth would disappear without a trace one day. Meanwhile, according to Trevor, “the dead spacecraft in orbit have become a permanent fixture around Earth… they will be the longest-lasting artifacts of human civilization, quietly floating through space long after every trace of humanity has disappeared from the planet’s surface” (The Last Pictures: Interview with Trevor Paglen). Thus, Trevor wishes to leave behind a “note” in space for posterity— for whichever intelligent creature that might visit or inherit the earth in the future—to understand what mark we had added to the universe. He took five years to interview many scientists, artists, anthropologists, and philosophers, in order to extract from their expertise to construct “what such a cultural mark should be” for the current moment.
To create an enduring record, Trevor also collaborated with materials scientists at MIT on the development of an ultra-archival disc as the media to contain the images. The disc is believed to be capable of lasting in space for billions of years, and is now mounted to the anti-earth desk of EchoStar XVI geostationary orbit. Trevor hopes that in this way, “The Last Pictures” could remain in outer space of the Earth long after humanity on Earth is no more.
EchoStar XVI under construction with reflectors fully extended
At first, when “The Last Pictures” was shown during lecture, I was merely attracted by the beautiful imageries. With so many bad news of the world nowadays, the pictures were refreshing and reminded me of the beauty and innocence of the world. In addition, the pictures made clear the history of the development of technology, as well as what we have done on Earth. As I researched more on Trevor’s project, I became really impressed by his bold and imaginative idea to utilize a communications satellite in the orbit as the carrier of our marks for the aliens to see! Before this, the thought never crossed my mind of how fleeting humanity and almost all forms of record created by humanity are compared to the cosmos timeline. That it is a real feat to design the proper media and content to connect us in some way to the future. I believe that the impact of the one hundred pictures to the future would be like how the old prehistoric cave paintings have connected us to the cultural of the past (also what originally inspired Trevor’s idea). We wouldn’t be able to begin to imagine about the thoughts, experiences and life style of the prehistoric people if not for those precious old painting on the wall.
Furthermore, the somewhat morbid premise of “The Last Pictures” also highlights the problems on the environment that humans have caused on Earth. Not only is this project a record for the future living ones, but also a mirror and warning to the people currently living, to notice the original beauty of the Earth and to start protecting it.