The Last Pictures

What images of our human earth would you hope might last longer than humanity itself? That is the question artist Trevor Paglen asked himself in compiling a collection of 100 “Last Pictures” of earth, recorded on an ultra-archival disc and encased in a gold-plated shell.  Paglen spent five years interviewing scientists, artists, anthropologists, and philosophers to consider should be contained in such a record. The project website says:

Since 1963, more than eight hundred spacecraft have been launched into geosynchronous orbit, forming a man-made ring of satellites around the Earth. These satellites are destined to become one of the longest-lasting artifacts of human civilization, quietly floating through space long after every trace of humanity has disappeared from the planet. Trevor Paglen’s The Last Pictures is a project that marks one of these spacecraft with a visual record of our contemporary historical moment.

It is fascinating to explore the project website and see some of the selected images. It is even more fascinating to consider what photographs we might send, if allocated a portion of the disk. With your students, consider what you might choose to represent the following.  Since Paglan used 100 photographs to represent the whole earth, we’ll go for a smaller number.

  • What ten photographs would best represent you, your family, or your school?
  • What ten photographs might represent your state or region?
  • How many photographs would you want to send to represent your country? What would they be?

If you’d like to tie this idea to other content, how about the following? Photographs selected could be actual imagines of the topic or visual metaphors.

  • What photographs (real or simulated) would best represent an era in history being studied?
  • What photographs (micro or macro-sized) could best illustrate a scientific concept being studied? For example, how could you best show conduction, convection, radiation or the carbon cycle through photographs?
  • Which photographs best illustrate the Golden Mean or the Fibonacci sequence?
  • What photographs would illustrate the time, or life, or mindset of a literary character?

Though the marvels of technology, students can select photographs from across the globe without a travel budget, and we can imagine contributing to a space archive. I’d love to hear what you try!

PS If you’d like to see more of the photographs than are available on the website, they have been collected in a book titled (not surprisingly) The Last Pictures. (But you’ll have to go to Amazon to look inside.)

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