Satellite Vision and Atomic Trails is an installation of photographs and a three-channel video crafted from an eclectic combination of government archival material, the theory of panopticism, Cold War propaganda, and satellite photographs of secret or obscured sites. Probing the creation and interpretation of what remains “unseen” within these satellite images, Satellite Vision and Atomic Trails decodes the anxious ambitions and failed promises of totalized surveillance. Satellite surveillance both envisions the surface of events and creates a map of their socio-political significance. But just as clouds obscure the view of earth from a CIA satellite, our pursuit of a totalizing surveillance apparatus generates a type of vision which obscures humanity itself. My large prints show satellite surveillance images taken covertly by the US government between 1960 and 1985: a sublime Arctic landscape, beautiful cloud formations, and a secret Cold War nuclear test facility. What these images fail to capture are enemy submarines beneath the Arctic ice, a panoptic prison and the political prisoners living there, and the radioactive legacy of mass nuclear detonations. Each of these images evidences the state’s attempt to totalize its vision through the satellite’s lens. They also evidence an irreducible conflict between the state’s panoptic goals, the physical limits of what film and satellite technology can capture, and the illegibility of the human condition. In a three-channel video, autonomous, I dramatize these themes by weaving together roughly sixteen thousand covert US satellite photographs with Cold War propaganda and marketing materials related to space and atomic energy. Satellite Vision and Atomic Trails is an art installation exploring disembodied technological vision and our ever-shifting definition of what it means to see and be seen.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Installations (Art)--Themes, motives; Video installations (Art)--Themes, motives; Photography, Artistic--Themes, motives; Cold War in art; Space surveillance--Pictorial works

Publication Date


Document Type


Student Type


Degree Name

Photography and Related Media (MFA)

Department, Program, or Center

School of Photographic Arts and Sciences (CAD)


Joshua Thorson

Advisor/Committee Member

Angela Kelly

Advisor/Committee Member

Willie Osterman


RIT – Main Campus

Plan Codes