Deadstock film recaptures a decades-old conflict in a new exhibition
As pro-am DSLRs and post production software make photography increasingly accessible, photographer Richard Mosse seems set on making his life more difficult. Armed with dead-stock Kodak infrared film—originally developed to detect camouflage for military aerial surveillance—Mosse ventured into the heart of the Congo to take some pictures. The forty-year-old technology was a cumbersome addition to his rural exploration, with Mosse playing the role of a time-traveling photographer under the hood of his camera. Consciously drawing from the photojournalistic tradition, Mosse's collection "Infra," on display at NYC's Jack Shainman Gallery through 23 December, is a revisitation of familiar themes. He plays a dangerous game, trying to imbue life into themes so commonplace that viewers have become apathetic. The result is a new meditation on the problematic genre of photojournalism in regions plagued by conflict, one that uses art to decontextualize the familiar.
The obvious narrative is simple. Hardened rebels stand among expanses of eye-popping magenta, a comic irony that contradicts the gravity of war. Mosse is using a discontinued technology to revisit an old yet ongoing problem, creating a dialogue between the generations of inhabitants affected by war and the omnipresent lens of western civilization. "Infra" forces the viewer to look with fresh eyes at images to which they have become blind. This experience holds true not only for viewers, but for Mosse as well. Without the perspective of his camera's infrared film, Mosse experienced his subjects for the first time during development.
Beyond the political ramifications of his work, Mosse's images are compositionally stunning. His ability to find geometry in figures and landscapes is especially apparent in infrared, where the contours of trails and human limbs soberly interrupt the mass of color. While child soldiers supply the initial interest, Mosse's landscapes are the surprise pleasure of the exhibition. Vegetation gives off a high amount of infrared light, which makes the Congo's lush terrain a particularly gorgeous subject for Mosse's lens. A stunning 3x3 series showcases the fragile structures of the Congo, lending valuable insight into village life.
The project marks an ongoing fixation for Mosse and next year the photographer will return to document the texture of the Congolese topography. To catch his current work, check out the exhibition at Jack Shainman, on display through 23 December 2011. A monograph of Infra is also available from Aperture for $80.
Images courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, NY.