Richard Mosse, the war in infrared
The Irish Photographer Richard Mosse has broken the rules of documentary photography by shooting with a special color filter. This unusual series, currently on display at the Shainman Gallery in New York, is also the subject of a new book published by Aperture.
Richard Mosse’s photographs of militia in eastern Congo have a disturbing effect , one borrowed from the glory days of Pop Art, and popularized by rock album record sleeves and kitschy psychedelic posters. It’s the same type of effect used by Balazs Gardi and Damon Winter in their series of Afghan pictures, taken with the Hipstamatic iPhone application. The journalist James Estrin responded to concerns about their quality on the New York Times photo blog: “Does it really matter what camera Damon Winter used to make these beautifully composed images? I don’t think so. It’s the images that are important. Whenever possible, I avoid writing about camera gear. The photographer takes the picture, not the equipment. Few people care what kind of typewriter Hemingway used.”
So Richard Mosse went to meet rebel groups armed with infrared films and a Kodak Aerochrome camera. These are wary men with wavering allegiances, fighting in a jungle war zone where ambushes, massacres and sexual violence are common.To document these tragic stories, the photographer kept his distance. On the one hand, it’s a distance in the proper sense of the term, with wide-angle shots of landscapes. The pictures are more ostensibly “peaceful” than Damon Winter’s: we see men at ease or on the march, gathering in a village away from combat, brandishing their weapons for the camera. There is also a distance in Mosse’s approach: this is photojournalism that blurs the lines between art, documentary and fiction. The infrared images, with their desaturated crimson and candy-red colors, could desensitize us to the horrors of war. Or, conversely, they might give the impression of a purely toxic and revolting world. Like their comrades from Afghanistan, these images spark reflection and debate about modern photographic practice.
Richard Mosse, Infra
Through December 23 at the Jack Shainman Gallery
513 West 20th Street,
New York, NY 10011
Tel. +1 212 645 1701
Published by Aperture
75 four-color images