Richard Mosse’s reconnaissances

IT IS EXACTLY FIVE years since the Irish Arts Review featured Richard Mosse’s infrared film on the Congo called INFRA in an essay by Stephanie McBride (see IAR Summer 2012 pps 86/90). Now Mosse has earned himself and his team one of the most prized awards in the world of photography – the Prix Pictet which is sponsored by the Swiss bank Pictet & Cie and is worth a cool 100,000 Swiss Francs.

Mosse is a film techie par excellence and it is not easy to get to grips with the technical complexities of his work. For his infrared Congo images, Mosse used a large format camera and Kodak Aerochrome film which although available for many years has now, strangely, been discontinued. Aerochrome is a false colour infrared film originally intended for aerial vegetation surveys and for military reconnaissance. It registers a spectrum of infrared light invisible to the human eye, rendering the green landscapes into vivid hues of lavender, crimson and hot pink. It is now used more often for the search and discovery of hidden archaeological sites.

What was remarkable about Mosse’s Congo series was not just the amazing colour switches but the subject matter itself which featured extravagantly coloured men in military gear with jungle backgrounds reminding one of the devastating civil war which has been raging there for years. No wonder it went viral immediately on release. As Stephanie McBride pointed out at the time ‘The role of photography in exposing Leopold II’s brutalities in the Congo in 1896 and Conrad’s fictional Heart of Darkness partly prompted Mosse’s explorations. The Congo continues to have a complex, troubled history of poverty and persecution in a mineral-rich terrain, with uncertain alliances and fragile truces between armies, militias and rebels.’

Similarly for his new video and book called Incoming, Mosse has employed what is described as a ‘weapons grade thermal imaging camera, normally used in battlefield surveillance, reconnaissance, and ballistic targeting, which can detect human bodies from 30km away’ to capture the human cargo of migrants crossing the Sahara desert and being loaded onto over-loaded boats in the Mediteranean. According to Pictet, they received 643 nominations of work by photographers in 76 countries this year. So it’s some achievement for the Kilkenny man to be selected as the overall winner of the 2017 Prix.  JM

See also Anthony Haughey’s review of Incoming by Richard Mosse on p152 of this edition.
Image: Richard Mosse with Kofi Annan

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