Monday, December 5, 2011
Richard Mosse - The Congo in infra-red film
Whenever I read a press release my usual first thought is "I wish I had written that!" immediately followed by "but why are they trying to sell me something I already own/know?". You can read the exhibition press release from the Jack Shainman Gallery HERE, it's well written and explains what Richard Mosse does to obtain all of the purple and pink hues. I will just talk about what I thought of the exhibition.
I had already seen a couple of Richard Mosse's prints and was intrigued to see more. They are nothing less than striking with the juxtaposition of violence (militia, guns and army) on top of a landscape that is coloured in warm pink, purple and red. Knowing what I know about the Congo, meaning the years and years of civil war, unrest, millions of deaths, poverty, systematic sexual violence and the guerrilla warfare tactics performed on civilians by multiple militias, makes these photos even more powerful. The Congo is DANGEROUS. For everyone. It's no wonder people don't care to talk about it, let alone go there on vacation. You only really venture into the Congo if you are a journalist intent on telling the truth about what happens inside the country, you work for a non-profit, or you have a sense of adventure which borders on the edge of self-destruction (see Joseph Conrad or, more recently, Tim Butcher). But without people like Richard Mosse, who actually go to this country and document what they see, no one would really see what the country actually looks like.
Tell me... How many of you reading this know that during this last week general elections were held in the Congo? That the Congo is the world's largest producer of cobalt ore, and a large producer of copper and diamonds? That with a strategic set up of public transportation and hydro-electric power the Congo could become a wealthy and powerful nation in Africa? But that since the late 80's, war and violence have created one of the poorest and most dangerous nations in the world (the numbers of deaths associated with these wars are around the 5 million mark).
The Congo is beautiful, extreme, huge and very daunting. More than luscious rain forests, waterways, mountains, always hot and humid, and raw. There are places where nobody lives, and places where you wouldn't think anybody could survive, but they do. You just have to look at Richard Mosse's landscape photos of the mountains that go on forever, with the grazing cows - seemingly peaceful images in a land of never-ending conflict.
I think my main question revolves around whether this is art or photo-journalism? In a sense isn't photo-journalism art too? Mosse uses a specific type of infrared-sensitive, false color reversal film called Kodak Aerochrome, that used to be used by the military to detect camouflage in green landscape (hence the fact that it turns the landscape into all these different hues). I don't know if he does any further editing on the photos once they are developed (I would like to know more about that part), but the end result is deeply striking. I just hope that these photographs can be considered as both art and photo-journalism, the former because they are so GOOD, and the latter because they depict a country where violence is the main form of communication and that the rest of the world doesn't really care about. Just look at his photo of the bombed out and abandoned UN building and think about it.
Richard Mosse's exhibition, Infra, is being displayed at the Jack Shainman Gallery until December 22nd. More information here: Jack Shainman Gallery
Richard Mosse Official Website
Kodak Aerochrome (discontinued)