Richard Mosse is the Irish conceptual photographer blurring the lines between Documentary Photography and Contemporary Art.
Using the tools of beauty and aesthetic to grab his audiences attention and make them feel more connected to stories of war across the globe...
"If you're representing human suffering, a lot of photographers don't want to get accused of aestheticising that. Beauty & aesthetics are the sharpest tools in the box and I think they can be used to effectively to more adequately and more powerfully to communicate complicated and difficult narratives." ~ Richard Mosse
In his 2013 installation film, "The Enclave", which was later made into a book, we see an otherworldly portrayal of war in East Congo's North and South Kivu. Using a discontinued Kodak Aero-chrome film which picks up the invisible infrared rays projected by plants and foliage, these moments captured take on a new life, one of beauty and a psychedelic nature. Mosse brought along with him Sound Designer Ben Frost and Cinematographer Trevor Tweeten to help make the ambitious film.
Mosse mentions that the film he used for this project was initially produced during World War II as a military grade technology, used to separate people from the natural landscape. This means that the film itself has connotations of war and suffering held within it's purpose, connecting it to his use of it in documenting the landscape of modern warfare.
These dreamlike images hold a sense of hallucinatory wonder. Yet they also build a bridge between the harsh and unforgiving reality of war in the Congo and the rest of the world. The awe-inspiring style of the images and the beauty held within the work really helps to make people feel more connected to that world. When you're faced with the reality of seeing something so beautiful being destroyed at the hands of civil unrest, you feel more of the pain of the situation. Strangely, through adding beauty to these very uncanny images of a world that seems so out of reach - the infrared bursts of colour, which are normally invisible, is the thing that helps connect you within that world. It grabs your attention and doesn't let you go.
"What can contemporary art do that reportage photography can't? And what is reportage photography weighted with that contemporary art tends not to be?" ~ Richard Mosse
In Mosse's 2018 video project, 'Incoming', he documents refugees arriving on the shores of Europe with military grade thermographic cameras that detect heat signatures. These cameras had primarily been used as border defence and these are similar images that would have been seen by the military in the process. The work creates incredibly powerful imagery, focusing on the narratives of the individual's lives without revealing their identity, casting them in this ghostly and enchanting monochrome light.
Yet again Richard Mosse seems to have created a new world through his images, but one that conveys harsh visceral messages about the current climate of this Earth that we all share. Subjects become ghosts in a black and white world between borders, where humanity and compassion is sparse. The system and its machine-like qualities are laid bare for all to see, it's frightening, aggressive but hugely emotional at the same time.
During filming, the cameras saw many people either dying or on the brink of death. Death by hypothermia and drowning are both extremely common for refugees trying to travel across the ocean to get to Europe. The medium of thermographic photography presents itself as a useful tool and is used powerfully as a metaphor in this case. Mosse creates a world in which heat is the primary force in life. Deficient and devastating. Some of the most powerful imagery from this project is that in which people are attempting to save others that have been exposed and have hypothermia using their hands. Warm hand prints are left behind with every touch as we see energy desperately being passed from one human to another.
Richard Mosse continues to raise the bar of documentary photography and ask the questions of how to communicate beauty & suffering in a more effective way. His work is wildly unique and his technical ability to create new worlds to reflect and teach us of our own is utterly remarkable.
You can see more of his work on his website at: www.richardmosse.com
~ Psychic Garden