The Irish Times
Article: Richard Mosse to represent
Ireland at Venice Biennale 2013
By Laurence Mackin
August 22, 2012
Ireland’s representative at the Venice Art Biennale 2013, the world’s foremost art event, will be Richard Mosse.
Mosse was selected after an open call for submissions by Anna O’Sullivan, director of the Butler Gallery in Kilkenny, and Ireland’s Commissioner/Curator for Venice 2013. For the Biennale, Mosse will present a “highly ambitious eight-channel multimedia installation on the subject of the ongoing conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo”.
Mosse has been getting a lot of attention internationally for Infra, his photo book on the conflict in eastern Congo. In it, Mosse uses Kodak Aerochrome film to photograph the landscape and those involved in the conflict. The infrared film was originally intended for military surveillance, but in Mosse’s hands it delivers spectacular blocks of colour, rich in pinks and reds. The effect, according to Aidan Dunne, this newspaper’s Art Critic, is to “undo the camouflage of the familiar by defamiliarising our perceptions of African conflict, throwing us into an hallucinogenic, surreal world that in some respects recalls Francis Ford Coppola’s film Apocalypse Now”.
In a recent article, Mosse told Popular Photography: “I was interested in [the film’s] original purpose as a military tool, but I was also drawn to its peculiar color palette. I wanted to use it as a way of thinking through this conflict and the rules and conventions of war photography.”
“At Venice, Richard will push this work into a strong, immersive multimedia environment,” said O’Sullivan. “I am thrilled for Richard, who I know will rise to the challenge of this important opportunity, and will create an extremely original installation that will represent Ireland powerfully on the international stage.”
Source Photographic Review
Issue 71 Summer 2012
Article: Pretty Menacing Review by Mick Gidley
The eleven large digital C-Prints in this important exhibition, several of them over two metres wide, are almost overwhelming. Both beautiful and -- partly because so beautiful -- deeply troubling, these images were taken in 2010-11, and depict scenes in the Democratic Republic of the Congo during a lull in the complex conflict that ever since independence in the 1960s, but most brutally and intractably during the Second Congo War which began in 1998, has witnessed millions of deaths through violence and consequent famine, untold numbers of rapes, wholesale abuse of children as armed conscripts, and virtually every sort of corruption anyone could imagine. There is a pronounced sense of menace to some of the images: in Colonel Soleil's Boys, for example, which in actuality depicts the peaceful integration of rebels into the Congolese National Army, the soldiers all look towards a sight out of shot to the right, and while that sight might just be the officer in charge, we fear it could be something suspect. Others -- such as Hunches in Bunches, in fact a scene of charcoal production, with its rising smoke, stunted trees and almost palpable signs of burning -- have the look of the aftermath of invasion. But Mosse did not set out to document the horrors of the Congolese conflict as such, but to represent his awareness of them, his response to them, even his impotence in the face of them. As the helpful exhibition leaflet states, the resulting photographs explore 'the relationship between art, fiction and photojournalism'.
What makes these images so arresting is the richness of reds, reds where we expect green, as if trees, bushes, savannah grasses were aflame with flowers. Thus, in the most reproduced one, General Fevrier, the potential aggression of the young soldier -- with his big boots and his huge rectangular wristwatch catching our eye while he seems to be obscuring the weapon at his side -- is thoroughly negated by the unfamiliar pinkish tone to his uniform, the soft crimson of his beret, and, above all, the profusion of magenta foliage behind him. This surreal effect was produced by the use of Kodak Aerochrome -- appropriately developed for military use (the detection of targets for aerial bombing) -- which reverses colour by exposing a spectrum of light beyond the limits of human perception. Such reversals play tricks on us: in Vintage Violence the whites of the eyes of a posed boy soldier glow with a greenish hue, and we're no longer sure whether that green is or isn't an effect of the process. It isn't surprising that most previous artistic users of Aerochrome have resorted to it because of its so-called 'psychedelic' properties. In Mosse's project, by nature and in effect, this is the Sublime almost as defined by Edmund Burke: it awes us, makes us uncertain, astonished, and, especially in the landscapes -- such as the Tutsi pasturelands rising to a distant horizon, or the immense lava flow from Mt. Nyiragongo -- aware of vastness, and of our own solitude in confronting it.
The images suggest -- in a similar way to Joseph Conrad's evocation in Heart of Darkness of colonial depredations in the Congo at the onset of the twentieth century -- that the very earth of the Congo is excessive and tainted, and that human reflect its colours as much as they make them. In this respect, the politics of the project avoids easy categorisation. The selection for this Open Eye exhibition -- particularly the avoidance of deliberately more extreme imagery, such as pictures of very young child soldiers or the youth with his face badly disfigured, presumably by leprosy, as if half-consumed by his own mouth -- amounts to a good introduction to the complete Congo project, as reproduced in Infra (2011), Mosse's stunning Aperture book. The book as a short essay by Adam Hochschild that brilliantly unravels some of the history, politics and, importantly, the economics of Congo conflict, thus helping to see why Mosse depicted deforestation or mining scenes, why his pictures differentiate between the pastoralism of the Tutsis and the arable farming of their habitual enemies, the Hutus.
Infra also has an essay by Mosse, in which he proves himself to be almost as articulate in words as with the camera. In this essay, as in the revealing interview with Aaron Schuman included in the exhibition's supplementary material, he emphasises difficulties in both the subject and himself. He calls the Congo war 'a conflict so pathologized that is well past the point of human comprehension', and claims his own pictures were not produced out of 'conscience', as per most documentary, but out of 'consciousness', concluding 'My photography... was a personal struggle with the disparity between my limited powers of representation and the unspeakable world that confronted me'. It is entirely appropriate that Open Eye chose to complement the Infra images not just with three of Mosse's videos from other conflicts, including Iraq, each time choosing to look at it obliquely (not battles, but by circling the detritus of battle, or following the movement of frightened sheep), but also, in the upstairs gallery, by a small selection from Simon Norfolk's better-known For Most Of It I Have No Words, which documents the traces of genocide in memory.
Mosse's work constitutes yet another way of seeing atrocity askance, as it were. Paradoxically, this may be to see atrocity more deeply, because -- in having to decipher what is before us -- we also have to acknowledge, at some level, our complicity in it. Analogously to the manner in which Picasso's Guernica was a response to a particular Fascist atrocity but in its incorporation of cultural, mythological and personal symbolism endures as a generalised rendition of the evils of war, Infra disturbs us with its allure.
Article: Richard Mosse’s Infra
By: Jessica Loudis
He works with a wooden large-format camera and Kodak Aerochrome - an infared film used for military aerial surveillance and Jimi Hendrix album covers before it was taken off the market two years ago - to render the Congo in a lurid hot pink that recalls the chromatic fashions of its urban sapeur subculture.
Infra, his first book, doesn't look like a Reuters slide show so much as an arresting mash-up of fashion photography, mililtary surveillance stills, and psychedelic dream imagery. Mosse breaks with the cliches of classical photojournalism, and allows his images to take on an unreality that befits their subjects.
The New York Times
Paper Gallery, April 26, 2012
Selected text from:
Vivid Guides to Unfamiliar Landscapes
by Dana Jennings
“Infra” seeks to shed light on the intractable war in the Democratic Republic of Congo, to present narratives that, Mr. Mosse writes, “urgently need telling but cannot be easily described.” In a brilliant tactic, Mr. Mosse shot these photos using Kodak Aerochrome, a discontinued military aerial-surveillance film. The infrared film is extra sensitive to green and translates the Congolese landscape into torrid pinks, margarita blues and coral-reef fuchsias. Against this surreal backdrop we see the war more clearly: the child soldiers, the maimed, the dead.
Art in America
June 2012 Selected text from: The New Realism by Christian Viveros-Faune
For the Irish photographer Richard Mosse, "Art has the potential to reflect our difficult world, shifting the way we see, the way we understand, and can have a cumulative and profound effect on consciousness."10 Mosse evokes the intractable conflict in eastern Congo with Conrad-like complexity, employing the hot pinks and fuchsias provided by Aerochrome, a disused infrared film once developed for surveillance by the U.S. military. His landscape and portrait photographs, often shot with an obsolete wooden field camera, are at once realistic and hallucinatory. They are essentially vibrant, gorgeous pictures of hell on earth.
Captured visions of a real-life nightmare that has been notoriously hard to fathom, Mosse's frankly esthetic images problematize photography, deftly turning his medium's falsehoods (the red appearance of green hills and valleys, for example) into human certainties (those very pastoral-looking landscapes are the setting of massacres and hide actual blood underfoot). Mosse's work reveals what remains invisible to photographers who record only what the camera sees with its "naked lens." Expanding out from conventional realism, his efforts to represent the unrepresentable break through the apathy often associated with photographs of unrelenting misery. According to Mosse, art "can help us begin to describe, and thereby account for, what exists at the limits of human articulation."
Article: Richard Mosse’s Infra
December 5, 2011
Richard Mosse's new images of the conflict in the eastern Congo push the definitional edges of photojournalism in both clever and confrontational ways. His photographs simultaneously operate on intertwined levels of documentary truth and artistic interpretation, mixing a reporter's eye for the facts of the story and an artist's eye for the mood.
Stripped of their color, Mosse's pictures would seem similar to images of war and rebellion that we see everyday: charismatic rebel leaders in fatigues surrounded by rag tag bunches of soldiers, the fight slipping in and out of the jungle, ravaging the countryside and then disappearing like a wisp of smoke. But the challenge is to get beyond these semi-posed units, the makeshift camps, and the military marches through the undergrowth to capture the disorienting, emotional landscape of the shifting alliances, the wins and losses, the destructive impact on the local people and the land itself, and the general inexplicable gruesomeness of it all. Like Conrad's The Heart of Darkness, Mosse's body of work takes the real and makes it exaggerated and surreal.
What is so obviously different and shockingly new here is Mosse' palette. Using discontinued Kodak Aerochrome infrared film, he has transformed dense pockets of jungle greenery and wide pastoral hillsides into a topsy-turvy Dr. Seuss world, where pink and red have become the dominant colors. River valleys, steep rock slides and undulating pastures are seemingly covered with bushes of cotton candy and hills of bubblegum. Soldiers wear pink berets and stand in towering undergrowth reminiscent of bright red Christmas pointsettas. The photographs are both joltingly wrong and quite beautiful, forcing the viewer to look again and again, trying to make sense of what is being presented. And this, of course, is the point; it's impossible to go down the rabbit hole of the Congo and have the situation seem normal or comprehensible. Even simple grazing cows look alien and out of place.
While I admire the eye-popping, memorable distinctiveness of these images, I think Mosse's expansion of his photojournalistic boundaries is even more important. He has used unexpected color reversal as a metaphorical device, a method for providing a sense of the place that goes beyond the visual details caught on film. While his war-time compositions may look familiar, the entire aesthetic experience is unsettling and perplexing, undermining our ability to derive answers or draw conclusions. The wild palette tells us that we have entered an alternate reality of some kind, and that things are not what they seem. In the end, this inversion seems both highly appropriate and durably original, and I am confident that these images will continue to stand out for many years to come, instantly recognizable as the uncertainty of rebel warfare, stunningly turned on its head.
Africa Is A Country
Article: Queering The Congo
By Neelika Jayawardane
November 21, 2011
War photography forces us to ask questions about the limits of cultivating empathy via looking, and the limits of seeing self in the other when the image before us intimates something so violently different from the life experiences of the viewer. The troubling ethical questions that surround photographing conflict are centered around the attempt, by the photographer, to evoke a responsiveness for the distressed people within the photographs from the readers of these images – those who are almost never the subjects in the photographs, who are hardly ever ‘one’ with the subjects. Moreover, war photography often exploits our aversion and attraction to violence: when we see images of semi-starved people fleeing from burning homes, or eyes enlarged with terror, we are accosted by a double impulse: to simultaneously glare voyeuristically, and to look away.
Photography depicting danger to human habitation, the worst of human depravity, and the hell holes of the world where every breath signifies the precarious of all that which the viewer regards as sacred is meant to engage those whose safe lives are in stark contrast to such instability. Such images are meant to engage evoke both our awareness of the discord and difference between our lives and theirs; yet, they trigger uncanny feelings of familiarity. Inevitably, we ponder harrowing questions about our desire to regard such violations, while receiving a grotesque sort of sublime pleasure. Small wonder, then, that image-makers of warfare, who make a living out of constructing “statement photographs” of scarred lands and hopeless bodies, are often critiqued for the vicariousness and predatory nature of their photography. In the end, we are left wondering about the photographer’s (and the audience’s) complicity in brutalising those who are already in precarious positions by our intrusion into intimate, violent moments in their lives.
It is with all this disquiet about regarding the pain of others that I look with great wonder at Richard Mosse’s Infrared images of eastern Congo, taken with Kodak’s colour infrared film, Aerochrome. The film, Mosse explains, “was developed during the Cold War, in collaboration with the U.S. military, to read the landscape, detecting enemy infrastructure,” and to render camouflage useless, thereby allowing the user to detect enemy positions in areas of dense vegetation. Civilians like “cartographers, agronomists, foresters hydrologists, glaciologists, and archaeologists” became fast friends of Aerochrome; soon thereafter, in the 1960s, its usage disintegrated into the world of kitschy psychedelic album art.
But the word psychedelic, Mosse points out, is tied to its Greek root: a soul-manifesting experience. What Aerochrome conveys, in Mosse’s hands, is that manifestation of souls, in profane places, within profane bodies that we may believe to be devoid of the sacred. The quietness of the eloquent tremors delivered by his photographs may only communicate disturbing doses of aesthetic pleasure to those expecting the obvious shocks that are the bread-and-butter of statement photography. What we get, instead, is the photographer’s invitation to us, the observer, to go beyond being told what to think by the black and white of the newsreel and charity speech. But because the images “disorder the aesthetics of conflict,” notes artist Mary Walling Blackburn in an exchange with critical theorist A.B. Huber, they make us ask further questions about the “ethical dimensions” of suspending “the real”; we worry that the campiness conveyed by all that abundant pink, and the sublime escapism possible with beautifying the ugly are “modes of political disengagement,” precisely because “the surreal quality of these images respond to our desire to be distracted from trauma at the moment of engagement, to float near, but not be engulfed” by the real (in Triple Canopy, “The Flash Made Flesh”).
Much of Mosse’s work sits apart from what was globally visible about the conflict in the eastern Congo. Mosse’s use of Aerochrome attempts to engineer new ways of looking at the eastern Congo and its conflicts, beyond meaning-denuded statistics about the three million deaths, and what often seem like repetitive, boilerplate stories aimed for a ‘Western audience. Mosse writes, in the essay introduction to his new book Infra: Photographs by Richard Mosse, 2011, “I felt Aerochrome would provide me with a unique window through which to survey the battlefield of eastern Congo. Realism described in infrared becomes shrouded by the exotic, shifting the gears of Orientalism.” It is the very ability to “shift” the photographer’s and the viewer’s Orientalist “gears” – those inevitable set of images, words, and conflicting emotions towards which our minds grind, the moment we hear the name, “Congo” – that allows Aerochrome’s scarlet and pink dyes to manifest soul where there appears to be darkness.
Mosse argues that while the word “surreal” is perhaps an accurate term for the infrared representation of the Congo, “as it exists beneath realism (infra means below, beneath) … any reading must also take account of this particular colour infrared film’s genesis as a military reconnaissance / aerial surveillance technology, an essentially western technology developed to fight a kind of warfare that is fundamentally scientific, which operates on the premise of “knowledge is power” (first instance of this idea was in Hobbes), a technology developed specifically for the gathering of intelligence.”
He writes, also, of the discoveries he made of his abilities, and where his attention took him as a photographer:
One of the great surprises of my work in Congo was the discovery of my own interest in portrait photography, which I had never previously attempted. There was something about making portraits of rebels in eastern Congo in which the subject seemed very clearly to resist the camera’s objectification. Making portraits of these people was often a sort of face-off confrontation, in which the subject (not just rebels, but also villagers) seems clearly violated by the lens at the same moment that they adjust their posture to pose for the photograph. I found this resistance fascinating, as it seemed to highlight the subject-object relation of photographer and photographed. There’s a certain vulnerability revealed by the subject’s stony defiance of the camera’s gaze in images such as General Fevrier or Tutsi town, which I feel only serves to emphasize the authorial hand, and its objectification of the other, like a European child pointing his finger at a black man in a provincial German supermarket (something I witnessed last week).
Whatever Mosse comments upon is arrived at through the picturesque nature of the infra images, and observer’s engagement with the subtleties carried within the beauty of the photographs. While many other war photographers direct the world’s attention to the spectacular moments of a conflict, collective grief for lives lost, or the massive aftermath of damage to structures, Mosse’s images capture what appears to be a near peaceful aftermath – the lonely remainders of domination and fear. The images contain little of the aggrandisation of aggression, even when the soldiers pose and posture; instead, as A.H. Huber explains, the use of Aerochrome “makes vivid” the ways in which “cruelty can be sublime, and violence can ravage and remake a landscape in ways we may politically detest but also find visually arresting, even beautiful…[the photographs] arrest us as viewers, and in doing so interrupt our habits of perception.” Huber argues further,
I think photographs always simplify and falsify the world they show us, but Mosse’s Congo photographs also expose something of the instability and contingency of our perception. And yes, in this way Mosse keeps faith with a kind of queer critique, the hallmark of which is the impulse to make the power of objective claims visible: What is real, and who decides? The stakes are high when we are dealing with histories of violence, where one never knows if the devil of disbelief might outshout the devil of indifference.
When I first read Huber’s analysis of how Mosse maintains “faith with a kind of queer critique,” I couldn’t let go of that idea. What does it mean to “queer” something? How does that upset/reconfigure – beginning with sexuality/gender, but in other arenas, too? William B. Turner, in A Genealogy of Queer Theory writes that queer theory emerged out of feminist theory and critical theory, “with a focus on the investigation of foundational, seemingly indisputable concepts, particularly with an eye to tracing the historical development of those concepts and their contributions of ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ such that the differences of power along those axes of identity pervade our culture at a level that resists fulsomely the ministrations of political action conventionally defined” (Temple University Press, Philadelphia, 2000, p. 3).
My Theory Uncle in Denver, Colorado adds, “At its most banal level, queer theory would interrogate what constitutes a picnic and what are the threads of identity, power, representation, gender, and sexual practice / identity that constitutes a picnic. And maybe that wouldn’t be so banal after all,” because, as a tool to interrogate the axes of power, desire, identity, gender, sexual practice, representation and sexual identity, Queer Theory helps us ask seminal questions about “how certain forms of difference become acceptable bases for the most violent expressions of prejudice while others do not,” or, “In other words, what sorts of differences matter?”
It is that desire to investigate “seemingly indisputable concepts,” tracing “the differences in power” which allows Queer Theory to “resist fulsomely” conventional definitions. Mosse was also able to latch on to the idea that both technique and technology would permit a revelation of conventions; in fact, he understood, instinctively, that a technology meant to harrow into shadow spaces, revealing all that one deliberately secrets away, could, instead, expose the closeted anxieties of the looker.
One of the troubling aspects of his journey as a photographer has been the upset his infrared work causes, offending “sensibilities on both sides of the spectrum,” writes Mosse. First, “dyed-in-the-wool reportage photographers,” the old guard of photojournalism, often seem to find the infrared colour palette in this work to be a flagrant violation of the “rules of photojournalism.” Certain war photographers “dismiss the work outright,” which makes Mosse wonder whether they are simply busy with “the guardianship of realism.” Along with the umbrage caused to the traditions of photojournalism, he also runs into the issue of who should have the right to represent, “as if representation was territorial,” and he were “trespassing,” Mosse writes. The question is whether a European man – and Irish man – can accurately speak for the Congolese. Certain discussions have “swiftly became heated and accusatory.” He countered these heated questions by asking whether Steve McQueen may go to Belfast to make Hunger, “a film about “my” Irish troubles? Doesn’t he know that only the Irish are allowed to represent the troubles?” Mosse counters that the territoriality surrounding representation of the Other is deeply problematic, precisely because such protestations do not take into account why “fresh opinions of [an] outsider’s perspective might offer new ways to understand the old calcified clichés.”
The essay by Adam Hochschild in Infra gives us the “just the facts” version of Congo’s history, with the variations of history that most Americans do not like to incorporate as ‘real’ history; he begins with King Leopold of Belgium’s early venture into making an area of land almost as big as the United States into his personal colony – and of Joseph Conrad’s vivid, and memorable account of the unspeakable ‘horror’ he encountered, five years into Leopold’s ravages. We also learn about how the Belgian government, realising that the decimated population could no longer produce as desired by their colonial master, gave the Congolese better health care and educations – but not too much education. So controlled was the level of knowledge permitted by Begium that by the time of independence, there were no Congolese “trained as engineers, agronomists, doctors, or army officers. Of some five-thousand management level positions in the civil service, only three were filled by Africans.” The U.S. is not simply implicated, but indicted: “Less than two months after the new prime minister [Patrice Lumumba] took power, U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower ordered the CIA to have him assassinated,” and then, proceeded to ensure that the U.S.’s “investments were protected” by a billion-dollar system of aid that only served to maintain their ally, Mobutu Sese Seko.
Next to (and together) with Hochschild’s, Mosse’s own narrative is deeply illuminating: some of the things that I felt conflicted about, as I looked at his photographs for the first time in the British newspaper, The Guardian, are explored here. He approaches, with honesty, what it means to arrive as an outsider to Congo, and to continue to be a reincarnation of “Marlow”: without the adequate means of comprehending the visual and linguistic signs, then turning to the surreal as a possibility. While Hochschild’s words provides a sort of reassurance – yes, this wordless horror, too, is representable – Mosse’s exploration admits to succumbing to the classical Conradian “horror” initially, and the wordlessness of encountering all that we regard as Other: the inhuman, the pointlessness of such abject brutality and suffering, and the lack of clear binaries and possible solutions.
Like more illustrious scholars like Chinua Achebe, I have also made it my business to critique the “preposterous and perverse arrogance in thus reducing Africa to the role of props for the break-up of one petty European mind,” wherein Africa is used “as setting and backdrop…as a metaphysical battlefield devoid of all recognizable humanity, into which the wandering European enters at his peril…[thusly] eliminate[ing] the African as human factor.” In Achebe’s seminal critique of Conrad (and the general European inability to word Africa and the African), he does not have a problem with European ambivalence towards the colonising mission and the colonial officers’ aversion to their own “civilisation.” His quarrel is, in actuality, with those who attempt to resolve this discomfort by removing Africans of their full and complex humanity. I, and other critics after Achebe have suspected that for Conrad and his narrator, the wordless horror he experienced was more of an indication of internal processes concerning the havoc he saw, in which he now recognises himself as a small tool – the root of which was intimately tied to consumption and amalgamation of power over supply. Projecting that horror on to the Other has been a part of a long tradition of European (and probably others’) conquest.
In Mosse’s photography, what I note is the possibility of re-visioning that which appears to be horror/wordless. So it’s almost as if we need to have it “queered” in order to see anything in a morass of signals. The infra-work draws attention to the Otherness, and removes difference at the same time without succumbing to a cheesy sort of “We are the World” mirroring technique. Here, we have to live within the grey (or the pink) of simultaneously recognising the impossibility/Otherness of this place, and actually seeing the human actions there, doing things in a very logical fashion.
Mosse writes, in an email communiqué, that he is “particularly drawn to these ideas of ‘the wordless horror’ that I identified in Marlow. He directs me to Elaine Scarry’s The Body in Pain for an elaboration on the prelinguistic, guttural failure to communicate the experiences of pain. For Mosse, these verbal failures are related to the “abject failure of the dumb optic of photography to describe a complex conflict situation…this failure was most acute when photographing the pastoral landscape of Tutsi highlands [recreated in the eastern Congo], the cattle at dusk, which makes only for beautiful and seemingly reassuring and peaceful imagery but should in fact speak volumes about the land conflict currently unfolding, the deforestation, the poisoning of primeval jungle, and the destructive encroachment of Rwandan pastoralists onto a Congolese landscape.” This litany of disparities “between what the lens reveals, or is able to say, and what is actually at stake” is what Mosse identifies as the “problem with my own technique, the procrustean aspect of Kodachrome, which I seek to violate.”
One can speak easily in clichés about infrared images: how seeing something in infrared light conjures up the magical ability to see the familiar as Other, making the obvious into the uncanny. Under the manufactured surrealism created by Aerochrome, everything we see is near bubble-gum delightful – grotesquely so. Here, conflict over the right to dominate over land, mineral rights, and access to sex is washed over by waves of unexpected rose, splotches of scarlet. But there’s something more aesthetically electrifying within Mosse’s images, beyond the shock of seeing rolling, terraced hillsides as flawless as those Sri Lankan tea-growing highlands with which I am familiar, snaking turquoise rivers, human encampments surrounded by the abundance of banana leaves, and machine-gun-toting soldiers who appear to be clad in campy pink fatigues. We begin by imagining that darkness to be in the external location of the geographical and psychosocial world that is Congo; but soon enough, as Conrad himself recognized on his famous fictional journey down the great river, that darkness is ours, rather than an external manifestation of horror.
Issue 203 Summer 2011
Article: Sublime Proximity: In Conversation with Richard Mosse
Interview by Aaron Schuman
Front cover of Aperture Magazine issue 203 summer 2011 showing Colonel Soleil’s Boys, North Kivu, Eastern Congo, 2010
Over the course of the last seven years, Irish photographer Richard Mosse has photographed postwar ruins in the former Yugoslavia, cities devastated by earthquake in Iran, Pakistan, and Haiti, the occupied palaces of Saddam Hussein, airport emergency training simulators, the rusting wreckage of remote air disasters, nomadic rebels in the Congolese jungle, and more. Reading through his catalog of subject matter, one could easily assume that Mosse is an inveterate photojournalist in the most traditional sense, chasing hard facts in order to illustrate breaking news. Yet through his work—generally photographed in large format and presented large scale, with a penchant for the staggering, the allusive, the historical, and the Sublime—Mosse is revealed as a practitioner intent on challenging the orthodoxies of documentary photography, in particular the contexts, imperatives, and “responsibilities” that are often both assumed by and imposed upon the documentary genre, and indeed upon the photographic medium as a whole. —A.S.
AARON SCHUMAN: How did you first become interested in photography?
RICHARD MOSSE: I come from a family of artists. My grandfather was a sculptor, my uncle is a painter, and my mother studied at Cooper Union under Hans Haacke, so becoming an artist was very natural. My parents are potters, and photography seemed like a kind of antidote to that., Its light-sensitive simulation is at a far remove from ceramics so I took to it at an early age. Shards of pottery that were formed from earth by hand will outlive us all, unlike photographs, which will perish in the sunlight that they once traced. Photography allowed me to be an artist without working in anyone’s shadow. That’s especially the case in Ireland where the medium is not so celebrated, in spite of seminal work by Willie Doherty, Paul Seawright, Donovan Wylie, and others.
Initially I was drawn to cinema as a teenager, and became obsessed with the French New Wave. But I found the military-style hierarchy of working in a film crew unsatisfying, so gave up filmmaking and concentrated on my degree in English literature. I dug deeper into a career in academia, getting a Masters in Cultural Studies at a left-field institution called the London Consortium—a research body formed in the interstices between the University of London, Tate, the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA), and the Architectural Association. Studying there gave me the freedom to integrate my own photographs into a written examination of the postwar Balkan landscape, and things evolved from there.
AS: How did that academic experience influence your subsequent pursuit of photography?
RM: I think it’s important that photography is cut through with other disciplines and a wider understanding of the world. Though I loved spending my days in the university’s library, a life in academia seemed removed from lived experience. I wanted to be a maker rather than a critic, a producer rather than a consumer. Photography is an engagement with the world of things, and it has given me a genuine pretext to travel widely and experience what James Joyce called “good warm life.” I’m most excited when there’s an elision of the critical and the creative in my work, so I haven’t discarded my academic foundations. Instead I try to build on them.
AS: The first time we corresponded, in 2003, you quoted Sol LeWitt: “When words such as painting and sculpture are used, they connote a whole tradition and imply a consequent acceptance of this tradition, thus placing limitations on the artist who would be reluctant to make art that goes beyond limitations.” You then wrote: “Yet I've always insisted on using photography. I think something is about to shift.” Has this “shift” occurred yet—for you, or for photography in general?
RM: At the time I wrote that I was working at Art Monthly, a British art magazine. I wasn’t yet fully practicing as an artist. I was the listings editor, consuming gallery press releases all day long—the best art education possible. Sol LeWitt’s statement now seems slightly tautological. Perhaps a better quote to answer your question might be from Robert Adams: “Photographers have generally been held to a different set of responsibilities than have painters and sculptors, chiefly because of the widespread supposition the photographers want to and can give us objective Truth: the word ‘documentary’ has abetted the prejudice. But does a photographer really have less right to arrange life into a composition, into form, than a painter or sculptor?”
Where LeWitt uses the word traditions, Adams says responsibilities. How much more limiting are your traditions when they are saturated with a moral imperative? The photographer is expected to be “responsible,” but responsible to whom? Documentary photographers whose work bears some relation to photojournalism are particularly constrained. Their expressive arteries have been hardened by years of World Press Photo Awards and the shadow of the intrepid photojournalist sporting a scarf and a Leica. Where would we be if Robert Frank had hidden his Leica in a scarf?
AS: So do you see your work as part of an evolution of photojournalism? And if so, when you find yourself at a hotel bar in Baghdad or Beirut, surrounded by traditional photojournalists, what discussions take place? I know that you’ve got the dusty, weathered boots . . . surely you must have a scarf and a Leica in your wardrobe somewhere as well?
RM: I found myself in Haiti this spring, shooting for a news magazine. It was my first editorial commission, and I ended up back at the hotel bar each night deeply confused, trying to reconcile my instincts with what I felt was expected of me by the editors. Two photojournalists—Jake Price and Scout Tufankjian—rallied to my side. They pointed out that the editors only wanted me to do exactly what I do; they wouldn’t have hired me otherwise. It was so simple, but I couldn’t see that without their help. I find working alongside photojournalists can be very inspiring. They work incredibly hard and are deeply committed. They also make excellent drinking partners.
AS: How do you decide upon your subject matter—is it driven by research and theory, which then leads to a search for the physical manifestations of your underlying idea in the real world, or vice versa?
RM: My process is very intuitive. The idea must come first, but the process of making the work becomes a pursuit of that idea—a “quest,” or more usually a kind of staggering picaresque narrative. My journeys are often very problematic, unplanned, and full of failure. For example, earlier this year I wanted to use a highly unstable infrared film technology as a way of thinking through the conflict in Congo. My concept was very raw and underdeveloped. Embarking upon the journey, I found myself challenged in many ways, not least because I had no knowledge of moving through this difficult land, and no experience of using this type of film. I was dealing with the unknown, negotiating my own ignorance. Since infrared light is invisible to the human eye, you could say that I was literally photographing blind. As soon as I arrived in Congo I had crossed a threshold into fiction, into my own symbolic order. Yet I was trying to represent something that is tragically real—an entrenched and endless conflict fought in a jungle by nomadic rebels of constantly shifting allegiances.
The actual situation that I discovered in Congo became folded into the initial idea, and I began to find ways to interpret what I encountered on my journey through this conceptual, logistical, and technical precariousness. Over time, these failures became synthesized into a kind of epiphany. I had privately reached a kind of messianic state where I could no longer perceive the absurdity of my task. So the research and theory adhere to, and become ramified by, an initial driving intuition.
AS: Your work bears more than a slight resemblance to artistic movements that directly preceded the invention of photography, such as Romanticism and history painting. These movements were eventually overtaken by Realism in the nineteenth century, and photography—as both a technology and medium—seems to have, until recently, been aligned more with Realism than with Romanticism. Do you think that a Romantic approach to photography is appropriate within contemporary practice?
RM: Photographic realism has become so inscribed upon twentieth-century depictions of war that we often forget that there were other forms before it: the panorama, the history painting, even 3-D spectroscopic views of the battlefield. In the past, this is how the public understood their wars—as distant sweeping landscapes of enormous scale and detail. I feel that early war photographers like Mathew Brady and Roger Fenton were influenced by these precedents. But they were soon forgotten with small-format technologies, and with changes in the way that wars were fought during the twentieth century. Warfare is constantly evolving; it has recently become abstracted, asymmetric, simulated. We are so removed from the experience of war in the West that I feel the genre may shift once more. The realist forms that were so powerful throughout the twentieth century may now be obsolescent.
In my practice, I struggle with the challenge of representing abstract or contingent phenomena. The camera’s dumb optic is intensely literal, yet the world is far from being simple or transparent. Air disasters, terrorism, the simulated nature of modern warfare, the cultural interface between an occupying force and its enemy, the martyr drive in Islamic extremism, the intangibility of Eastern Congo’s conflict—these are all subjects that are very difficult to express with traditional documentary realism; they are difficult to perceive in their own right. Very often I am fighting simply to represent the subject, just to find a way to put it before the lens, or make it visible by its very absence. This process is inherently “Romantic” because it often requires a retreat into my own imagination, into my own symbolic order.
But the real is central to my interests, as it’s something that eludes conventional genres, particularly Realism. The real is at the heart of contemporary global anxiety; proximity to the real is endured by us all. But I feel that the real is only effectively communicated through shocks to the imagination, precipitated by the Sublime. That may seem like an archaic term, but what I’m referring to here is contemporary art’s unique ability to make visible what cannot be perceived, breaching the limits of representation.
AS: When you first arrive at a location—a U.S. military base, a Congolese village, etcetera—and explain your intentions, what’s the response?
RM: I’m always surprised by how generous people are when they encounter my photographic handicap, the view camera. The people on the ground who watch me set up my tripod and unfold my bellows are generally more aware of the significance of my subject than I am. The problems are usually encountered further up the line, with press officers, spokesmen, lawyers, corrupt officials, red tape. My journeys occasionally lead me into abject situations and Groundhog Day–style cul-de-sacs. For example, on a recent trip to Ethiopia my guide got us lost on the Eritrean border, a recent war zone. Our vehicle’s four-wheel-drive malfunctioned, and the engine overheated constantly. The driver stopped every half-hour to pour tinned tomato puree into the radiator to cool it down. Then we were tricked by Afar tribesmen with Kalashnikovs into taking the wrong road, which we traveled for days, ending up in a refugee camp. My crew feared potential intertribal violence so we decided to sleep in the police station. When we finally approached our destination the Land Cruiser’s tires got stuck in the desert sand, the seven armed guards who were traveling with us started to fight with the cook, the driver fell asleep, and our guide began to pray. I had to dig the vehicle out of the sand. We never reached our destination.It was an invigorating jaunt, but not a sustainable way of life.
AS: In the past two decades, there has been a wave of what is often referred to as “aftermath” photography. Would you regard your own work as a part of this movement?
RM: Aftermath photography took everything interesting about the New Topographics and turned it into a movie set. Thankfully, there’s a place for these photographers . . . it’s called Detroit.
AS: But how do you differentiate your images of Iraqi or Serbian ruins from those of the many photographers who have flocked to Detroit or post-Katrina New Orleans to photograph debris with heavy tripods and large-format cameras?
RM: Guilty as charged. Although even if some of my work is similar in form to aftermath photography, I do feel there is a distinct difference in both my approach and intent.
For the Romantic poets, the ruin carried tremendous allegorical power, and that power resounds today in contemporary photography. Perhaps the ruin’s absent totality signifies something very different to us now than it did back then—its timeless resonance shifts for each generation. Nevertheless, we are still drawn to the same imagery that Caspar David Friedrich was. I’m not so sure that we’re always honest with ourselves about this fascination.
The thing that strikes me about a lot of aftermath photography is the moral high ground that the photographers often take. Their journey into darkness becomes a kind of “performance of the ethical”; witnessing the catastrophe becomes an act of piety, of noblesse oblige, when in fact it’s nothing of the sort. I would imagine that most aftermath photography is really just an artist’s quest to find meaning and authenticity through extreme tourism. I’m reminded of the poète maudit, the Romantic antihero who will go to the ends of the earth and transgress all moral boundaries for the ultimate aesthetic experience. This irresponsible, self-destructive rogue was best embodied in the crapulent, wayward lives of artists like Arthur Rimbaud or Paul Gauguin. The “responsibilities” that Robert Adams complained about, abetted by the documentary, seem to preclude the maudit in photography.
AS: Is the notion of “spectacle” important to you?
RM: Last summer I found myself trespassing in an abandoned, war-damaged hotel near Dubrovnik. I tinkered about this Brutalist ruin with my camera, finding various Yugoslav relics from 1991, the year that the hotel became a front line in the fighting between Serb snipers and Croat militias. Then, as I was making my way through the wreckage, I noticed a modern cruise ship anchored in the nearby waters. This huge luxury vessel mirrored the hotel in form; the parallel between the two vast structures was uncanny, and I began to think about their relationship. Placed alongside each other, what sort of dialogue did they open up? The cruise ship, I reasoned, is an unmoored signifier of globalization par excellence, its tourists comfortably numb within their air-conditioned matrix, blissfully ignorant of the traces of war facing them on the cliff. The ruined hotel, on the other hand, spoke of local tribal enmities, of painful regional memories, of conflict and war. I meandered to the conclusion that perhaps war is the only remaining hurdle standing in the way of global amnesia; perhaps war is the only thing that redeems historical narratives in the face of this leveling of identity.
These thoughts followed me back to New York, where I developed the rolls of film that I’d shot in Croatia. On my contact sheets I discovered one image depicting shattered mirrored steps, broken beer bottles, fake flowers, and a hangman’s noose on a dusty ballroom floor. This photograph seemed to mock my fallacious theory about war, memory and the consequences of globalization. I’d dreamed that the evocative ruin represented an alternative to the society of the spectacle—that I’d trespassed in the forbidden wreckage of the real. I flattered that afternoon’s adventure as some sort of original transgression of the spectacular. But the souvenir document that I’d returned with reminded me that the hotel’s bombed-out ballrooms were also the occasional haunt of local ravers. International DJs come with smoke machines and strobe lights and use the place as an exotic live venue, appropriating its authentic war remnants as a stage for hipsters to celebrate their alienation.
I was reminded of Guy Debord’s words. The spectacle, he writes, “is the sun which never sets over the empire of modern passivity. It covers the entire surface of the world and bathes endlessly in its own glory.”
Issue 28, the conflict issue
Article: A Conversation with Richard Mosse
Interview by Joerg Colberg
Front and rear covers showing detail of Tutsi Town, North Kivu, Eastern DRC, 2010
On the following pages you will see Richard Mosse's Infra, a remarkable work in progress of what we tend to casually refer to as the conflict in Congo. Why go there? Why use colour infrared film? Jörg Colberg, founder and editor of Conscientious, a website dedicated to contemporary fine-art photography, asked him.
Jörg Colberg: Let me start off by asking why/how you decided to take photographs of Eastern Congo? How did your interest in the region develop?
Richard Mosse: Congo is regarded as one of the first places in which photography became a powerful humanitarian force. Around the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, there was a watershed of concern surrounding the Belgian monarch, King Leopold II’s personal abuse of power in the region. This was simultaneous with the rise of photography within mass media. Two English missionaries, Alice Seeley and John Harris, left for the Congo Free State in 1896 and photographed the brutal human rights violations that they witnessed there. This and other portrayals of the region’s horrors eventually brought an end to Leopold’s claim to Congo. But the misery continued.
Also at work at this time was Joseph Conrad, a steamboat captain along the mighty Congo River in the early 1890s. Conrad wrote a short novel about his experience, Heart of Darkness. [...] To this day, Congo seems caught in the wake of Conrad’s steamboat. In the western popular imagination, the place is often regarded as touched by madness, darkness and cannibalism. The conflict’s recent disturbing turn towards gang rape and sexual terror, exacerbated by the United Nation’s ineffective and convoluted bureaucracy, only adds to the region’s reputation as Breughelesque and incomprehensible, echoing Mistah Kurtz’s the horror, the horror.
Wandering through the Menil Collection in Houston I was fascinated by Congolese statues that had been studded with metal nails fashioned in waves. Looking at them, I remembered that the slaves on Conrad’s steamboat had been paid in rivets - a kind of placebo currency invented by the Belgians. Here before me, I realised, were complex and challenging aesthetic forms made from these useless iron slivers. I checked the date and it tallied with Conrad’s visit to the Congo Free State. Here was ‘primitive’ aesthetic virtuosity, exceptional works of art produced in the midst of a humanitarian catastrophe, made by its victims out of the pathetic and worthless tokens paid out by their brutal oppressors. I could wait no longer.
JC: I’m curious about your choice of medium, using Kodak’s Aerochrome infrared film. Essentially, plants start looking pink, and other colours shift as well, resulting in what one could call a bubblegum palette. Is a bubblegum palette a good choice for a rather complicated situation, about which most Westerners know very little?
RM: […] The false-colour Aerochrome was a thing of the past. I was dealing with an abandoned technology which I wanted to use reflexively, to work this military technology against itself in the hopes of revealing something about how photography represents a place like Congo, a place so deeply buried beneath and stifled by its representations.
I was especially interested in how Aerochrome perceives and makes visible an imperceptible part of the light spectrum. In almost all of my work I struggle with the challenge of representing abstract or contingent phenomena that are virtually impossible to see, or at least very difficult to put before a camera lens. This is especially the case in Eastern Congo, where my subject was inherently hidden. From the little I had learned about this conflict, as well as from my past experience working in similar situations, I knew ahead of time that my subject would elude me. Rather like Conrad's Marlow on the steamer, I was pursuing something essentially ineffable, something so trenchantly real that it verges on the abstract. [...] The decision to use colour infrared film forms a dialogue with these specifics. The poetic associations carried by the pink and red palette are a by-product of this conceptual framework, but a very fertile one. It’s an allegorical landscape - La Vie En Rose - steeped in a kind of magical realism.. […]
JC: Of course, there’s also the problem that we live in the Age of Photoshop, and people might just think you simply changed colour using a computer - which, given the growing number of photo-manipulation discussions - might make people focus on the colours and on whether or not what they’re seeing is actually real, instead of the actual subject matter. Were you concerned about this?
RM: Using colour infrared film and making Photoshop manipulations are both creative decisions. There’s nothing more or less truthful about either of them. However, the decision to use analogue infrared film refers to the specificity of that medium, its genesis as a military technology, its potential to reveal the invisible, and a host of other factors. Infra is concerned with that specificity, and a deeper understanding of the work does require the knowledge that these images are the result of a particular kind of film that is sensitive to infrared light.
JC: Given your choice of film it seems you might have a problem with how conflicts in Africa or the continent itself are usually covered. What is your take on this complex?
RM: The idea of a ‘story’ to be ‘covered’ reveals a photojournalist’s task. Journalism is extremely important when it comes to representing conflicts. But it is not the only strategy available. There’s a range of art forms beyond photojournalism. Since they’re not as concretely instrumental as journalism, they give us a whole lot more space to breathe. That’s very important because the world is a complex place.
JC: Can you talk a little more about what you mean when you talk about art forms beyond photojournalism? What role can art play? And needn’t we worry about art being seen as, well, art, in other words something that’s “just made up”?
RM: I feel strongly that something that is ‘just made up’ can speak more powerfully and more clearly than a work of journalism.
At the end of the day, I feel that journalism’s premise is often not simply to inform, but also to affirm our world view. I take issue not with its informing role, but with this affirmation. I believe that it’s imperative to challenge our thinking, particularly in more volatile and loaded landscapes whose narratives are frequently calcified by mass media interests. My work is not intended as a criticism of journalism (which is tremendously important). Rather, it operates within the open field of contemporary art, where the emphasis is not on the answers, but on the questions - not on the facts, but on what they add up to.
Dazed and Confused
Article: Last Shot: Richard Mosse, Infrared Film Exposes Unseen Conflicts in Eastern Congo
Interview by Sarah Fakray
Photo: LA VIE EN ROSE, North Kivu, Eastern Congo, 2010, courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery
A crackly, delayed phone connection is trying its hardest to destroy all conversation. Calling Dazed from Syria, 30-year-old photographer Richard Mosse is driving in a rental car with a friend who is planning a coup of the Syrian government. Before long they are stopped by a policeman who asks where they are going, and when he hears the destination Damascus, jumps in the back of the car – meaning that technically this interview was conducted under police supervision. Some people work better under pressure; Mosse thrives on conflict, and his most recent series "Infra" documents his journey to eastern Congo this year, where he used an infrared camera to produce psychedelic landscapes alluding to the fact that the warring factions hiding in the jungle cannot be seen by the human eye.
"I thought I'd go to the Congo because it's a very unstable region and difficult to work in, and I was looking for a challenge. I had photographed plane crashes and Saddam's palace, made work in Gaza and Iraq, and I felt like I really needed to change my destination away from the Middle East. The eastern Congo was a completely impossible place to visit as a white man with a camera. There really isn't a tourist infrastructure at all, but there's a highly developed infrastructure of corruption targeting NGO workers or the UN, and they presume you are part of that brigade. I got hassled on a daily basis by immigration people, intelligence people, media people, anybody who fancied a few bucks… I probably spent a couple thousand dollars of grant money on bribes; it was the only way you could get around.
There was a very specific concept behind the decision to shoot in infrared. I knew if I went out there, I would be competing with these contingent, very abstract phenomenon that are very difficult to represent with the camera. There was a high chance that I would come away with a banal experience from eastern Congo, without seeing any conflict at all. The rebels that fight the war there are nomadic and live hidden in the jungle, so the nature of the conflict is essentially an intangible thing. At the same time I'm using a camera, which deals with a physical trace of the world, so you have to put something in front of the lens in order to represent it. I was trying to make a leap into the invisible. Infrared light can be seen by infrared film but not by the human eye; it was a way of dealing with that intangibility.
There were side effects that come with using infrared film I was hoping would come through: these hallucinogenic colour palettes, which are very unusual to say the least, and were last seen on the front cover of a Grateful Dead album. I like that because it takes a step into the world of magical realism – it's surprising and it challenges the viewer. A lot of hardcore conservative photojournalists have been offended by this because they think that I am ridiculing my subject, which is far from the case – I am very interested in the complexity of the situation there. I'm really delighted those people in particular are challenged and are made to question the convention and genre of documentary photography."
Article: Points of Conflict: An Artist goes to War. Introducing Richard Mosse
Interview by Aoife Rosenmeyer
Richard Mosse is resting after two hectic years, a whirlwind of work in locations including Iraq, the West Bank, Gaza, and the Congo funded by an Annenberg Fellowship from Yale School of Art; right now he deserves some time off. We rendezvous on a train from Zurich to Lausanne, where we will visit "reGeneration2: Tomorrow’s Photographers Today," an exhibition that includes his work at the Musée de l’Elysée. Mosse is en route from his parents’ home in Kilkenny, Ireland, via Austria, to the raucous folk festival in Serbian Guca, where he hopes to meet some former fighters in the region’s ethnic wars. His most recent series, "Infra," of photos taken in the Democratic Republic of Congo, has sparked criticism from photojournalists — grist for the mill of an artist who operates at the point where art and journalism meet.
Now a resident of New York, Mosse was born in Dublin in 1980 and moved to London to study English literature before shifting focus from words to images while completing his masters at the London Consortium. After a year at Goldsmiths College, he enrolled at Yale, where he earned an MFA in photography in 2008. He has already had solo shows at such venues as Jack Shainman (who represents his work), in New York; the Fotofest 2010 Biennial, in Houston; and the Eigse Arts Festival, in Ireland. His documentary prints, measuring a monumental six by eight feet, have portrayed plane wrecks, bombed buildings, and models built for airport fire-safety training, while his thoughtful investigative video works probe both the verbal and visual vocabularies of politically fragile locations.
Tall and broad-shouldered, Mosse has the bearing of a man who doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty. For years he has traveled to sites of conflict, drawn by the dense histories that underlie so many disputes. Mosse found compelling situations but was dissatisfied with images produced following photographic tradition. "The camera’s lens is brutally dumb. That dumbness is terribly frustrating," he says, "but it’s also a fabulous tool for unpacking history." Mosse agrees with Susan Sontag’s assertion that photojournalism compromises its output to make images audiences can assimilate. In contrast, he is interested in the world as it is, and he makes art, not journalism, trying to access the sublime to convey invisible truths.
In 2009 he went to Iraq, where he was embedded with U.S. troops. The catalyst for the trip was a "New Yorker" article in which Jon Lee Anderson described Saddam Hussein’s palaces, 81 monumental compounds with which Saddam had studded the country to display his might and some of which he never set foot in. They are easily defensible and centrally located, and in 2003 the invading U.S. forces immediately occupied several of them. This struck Mosse as symbolically replacing a despot with an aggressor. "If you’re trying to convince a population that you have liberated them from a terrible dictator," he says, "why would you then sit on his throne?" Thanks to accreditation from the "Yale Daily News," he spent a month living with the troops, using any opportunity to document both the colossal structures and the camps that had been set up inside.
Mosse was mindful of Jean Baudrillard’s provocative claim, made in his essay "The Gulf War Did Not Take Place," that the first Gulf conflict was actually a scripted media event. From the same events that provided sound bites on international news channels during the second war, he created the 2009 "Breach," a series of immediate and unexpected images of ornate if crumbling buildings and of soldiers marking time within them. Mosaics, chandeliers, and marble contrast sharply with an alfresco gym and the chipboard-divided accommodations, the internal military posters providing their own version of propaganda. The title could refer to the gap in Saddam’s defenses that the military has filled, the break with tradition, or a breach of faith. The photographs testify that the palaces, so long targets on the radar of the International Atomic Energy Agency, remain a representational minefield.
If Iraq’s media profile is high, the Democratic Republic of Congo’s is low. The turbulence of the past decades — so "immanent," Mosse says, "it infuses Congo and has done for 50 years" — remains virtually unseen in the West because of its complexity, our lack of interest, and the fact that it’s convenient for us remain ignorant about the dubious source of the metals in our mobile phones. Mosse discovered that in the country itself the war is also, in a sense, invisible, conducted with so-called white weapons, silent arms like machetes and clubs. The rebel Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda live nomadically in the equatorial jungle that covers the country and also swallows the traces of rape, murder, and pillaging. To capture this hidden conflict, Mosse used an unstable and almost defunct photographic medium called color infrared, or false-color film, designed by Kodak in conjunction with the U.S. military, which allows shelters camouflaged in dense forest to be spotted from the air.
The result was "Infra," produced at the close of his Annenberg marathon last summer. The aesthetic of color infrared has been employed by the likes of the Grateful Dead for album artwork, and some photojournalists accused Mosse of frivolity for using it to create his beautiful but threatening scenes, rendered in powdery pink. But he finds the charge absurd, given the history of the medium.
If the artificial prettiness of color infrared film helps him make the invisible more visible, all the better. Ultimately, he says, "naturalism has no greater claim to veracity than other strategies."
British Journal of Photography
March 25 2010
Richard Mosse: La Vie En Rose
by Olivier Laurent
Photo: General Janvier, North Kivu, Eastern Congo, 2010<br/> Images © Richard Mosse, courtesy of Jack Shainman Gallery
Ask Richard Mosse what first fascinated him about the Congo and he'll give you a long list. "Joseph Conrad. Tin Tin. The Rumble in the Jungle. The Belgian colonial legacy. The beer. The Ebola virus. A country the size of Western Europe with less paved roads than Ireland. The ‘bulletproof' Mai Mai warriors. A conflict so pathologised that it is well past the point of human comprehension."
But it's the latter reason that led the Irish-born photographer to use Kodak's Aerochrome film. Discontinued last year, the film is particularly sensitive to infra-red light, rather than to the usual visible spectrum of colours registered by traditional film. Since foliage reflects infra-red while buildings don't, the US Army used it during the Vietnam War to detect and reveal hidden soldiers. "I wanted to export this technology to a harder situation, to up-end the generic conventions of calcified mass-media narratives and challenge the way we're allowed to represent this forgotten conflict," says Mosse. "I wanted to confront this military reconnaissance technology, to use it reflexively in order to question the ways in which war photography is constructed."
Mosse was first inspired to use the film after seeing the work of Florian Maier-Aichen. "This German artist rejects the influence of the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf and the Becher school to embrace a kind of Romantic exploration of the landscape of the American West," says Mosse. "I was moved by the beauty of this work, and wondered whether he used colour infra-red film to compose certain images. I'm not sure whether he actually did, but I got excited by the technology, which is considered to be a kind of photographic taboo – thou shalt not cross-process; thou shalt not use colour infra-red film."
While Mosse refuses to reveal where he got the discontinued film - "I could tell you but then I'd have to kill you," he jokes – up until February, a small company in Germany supplied it in the 120 medium format by cutting it down from a large roll stock. However, even that supplier has now run out of the film, BJP understands. But this setback hasn't deterred Mosse from his continued interest in Congo and infra-red technology. The 30-year-old photographer plans to go back next year with cinematographer Trevor Tweeten, with whom he's worked on previous projects.
"We plan to shoot IR Red One video. That involves sending the Red One camera back to the factory where the OLPF filter will be removed from the digital sensor." The result "will be quite extraordinary and very different to the old Aerochrome stock," he says. "It will be a kind of blown-out monochrome palette. We've actually shot infra-red before in Iraq, where Trevor repurposed his Zeiss lens to peer through a US Army IR goggle eyepiece. The result was this nightmarish green-and-black palette, rather like the old DOS interface for anyone old enough to remember computer screens before Windows and the Mac Classic."
However, he says, "the IR we will shoot in Congo will probably look a lot different, rather like the moment an atom bomb detonates. The world will seem shadowless, like a breathless high-noon desert landscape, yet we'll be beating through the jungle shadows."
March 25 2010
Review: America the Dysfunctional, Fotofest 2010 Biennial
By Kelly Klaasmeyer
Richard Mosse is by far the standout of the show. Rather than focusing on America, he focuses on Iraq and the chaos that is the product of American action. His photographs are enormous and highly seductive — they are gorgeously shot, in the way a less topical photographer would capture some scenic swath of natural splendor. The images lure you in even as it dawns on you what they depict. Stark desert landscapes are interrupted and dominated by the shells of blown-up cars, the roofs ripped open from within, the bodies pierced by shrapnel and gunfire. The images are titled after their subjects: a Mitsubishi Space Wagon (2009) found in Mosul, a Plymouth Grand Voyager (2009) from the Sunni Triangle. At some point, you register that these violently transformed vehicles are soccer mom cars.
Article: Shooting Gallery, the limitations of photojournalism and the ethics of artistic representation
By Christy Lange
Photo: Richard Mosse: Grand Voyager Sunni Triangle, digital C print, 72 x 96 inches, 2009, courtesy the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery
‘Breach’ exposes the makeshift headquarters of US soldiers constructed in seven of Saddam Hussein’s former palaces. These colour photographs show the ironic contrast between the grandiose marble palaces and the flimsy, provisional American military accommodations erected inside. The monumental images in ‘Nomads’, taken with a large-format camera in the Iraqi desert, show cars so riddled with bullets that only their mangled shells are left. Both series are self-conscious about the limitations of reportage – the destroyed cars left abandoned on the field of battle don’t attempt to picture the war’s immediate drama, but they do evoke its human victims. Mosse sees his work as operating between the two poles of contemporary art and photojournalism: ‘The documentary photographer has a terribly difficult life compared with the conceptual artist. But, like Prometheus and Loki, we’re both tied to the same rock.’ ‘Late photography’ incorporates the seriality of Conceptual art while consciously keeping imagery of disaster at bay. It constitutes what Campany calls ‘a second wave of representation’. How does our impression of the war change if we only see ‘traces’ rather than the ‘faces’?
Art in America
Article: Richard Mosse, Jack Shainman, New York City
Review by: Lyra Kilston
Photo: Richard Mosse: Pool at Uday’s Palace, 2009,<br/> C-print on Plexiglas, 72 by 96 inches; at Jack Shainman.
There are many ways for photographers to document war, from portraying its victims or perpetrators, to showing the scars it leaves on the landscape, to making images that speak of the disappearance of a certain population. Irish-born photographer Richard Mosse favors recording the wartime wreckage abandoned as junk, creating pictures of the military vehicles and airplanes left rusting in snowbound forests and barren deserts. In this exhibition, Mosse’s second solo in New York, a dozen large-scale color photographs and one video captured the relics of war from several angles.
In a few images, U.S. soldiers are shown lounging beside Uday Hussein’s enormous empty swimming pool; the bright turquoise paint of its walls contrasts starkly with the dusty beige of the landscape, the brown rubble on the pool’s bottom and the desert-camouflage uniforms of the poolside GIs. In other works, cars so thoroughly riddled with bullet holes as to be nearly collapsed sit abandoned in arid stretches of land, the dust-filled air a sickly mustard yellow. In the series “The Fall,” defunct airplanes are shown decaying on snowy mountain ridges in the Canadian hinterlands, or in warmer climes, as in 727 Santo Domingo (2009), where a thick clump of ivy has begun to climb the body of a rusting plane. (An earlier series not included in this show pictured flaming dummy airplanes used for emergency rescue practice.)
Mosse is not yet 30, but he has already documented some of the most formidable sites in the world, including the smuggling tunnels of Gaza, bullet-scarred Beirut and the wrecked palace of Saddam Hussein (the photographs of which are among those he took while embedded with the U.S. military). The video Untitled (Iraq), 2009, opens on a windswept dune, and as the camera begins to circle twisted metal scraps left in the sand, a voice recites Iraqi place names in alphabetical order from Abu Ghraib to Tikrit. The metal, used for target practice by American soldiers, had rusted into an oxidized lace. Trash in another context, this debris bears witness to violent histories. As with the derelict cars and planes, we can’t help but anthropomorphize these meager remains. Mosse’s photographs conjure the effects of war we know but do not see here: human bodies shattered and lives lost.
Issue 38, January/February 2010
Article: Richard Mosse: The Fall, Jack Shainman, New York
Review by: Jonathan T.D. Neil
There is a trio of photographs in Richard Mosse’s debut exhibition that would seem to tell the whole story. What we might call the central panel of this triptych, Pool at Uday’s Palace (all works 2009), shows a team of seven marines, some sitting, some standing, some reclining poolside at what is left of Uday Hussein’s onetime getaway on a hilltop in Iraq. The panorama behind the men is spectacular. The parapet of the pool terrace runs parallel to the top and bottom edges of the image, which tells us Mosse is a formalist. But he’s not so much of one as to disregard a decisive moment. One reclining Marine, helmet off, legs crossed, has his arms raised, palms up and head cocked to the side as if to say, ‘Fuck it, can’t we enjoy ourselves?’ The gesture is directed at one of the soldiers standing at left, whose own slightly inclined stance betrays a stern authority and disapproval: ‘Get your fucking Kevlar back on’.
The scene is worthy of Watteau, but this is obviously no fête galante. There’s rubble in the pool and not a shred of green — plus, we’re in a world without women. Whatever is libidinal about it comes in the embrace of death. This is confirmed in what I’ll call the left panel of the triptych, Foyer at Uday’s Palace, which pulls the camera back five meters and under a stone balcony. The attention of five marines still in the scene is held by something down in the landscape. One marine is crouched at the parapet with rifle raised. Everyone’s helmet is on.
Column at Uday’s, the third panel of the triptych, finds the camera panned to the right. Two of the balcony’s denuded columns (due to shelling) are now front and centre. The empty pool rushes in at the left, and one of the palace’s destroyed walls frames the right. The rest is rubble, a decapitated outbuilding, empty ridges, blue sky.
What about that pool? In the central panel it looks huge, given that it bleeds off the bottom edge of the image, its end accelerating out of the frame. But pull the camera back a bit, as Mosse has done in the other two photographs, and the pool narrows, even appears rather middling. When I say these photographs tell the whole story, that is because they reveal the centrality of this depth-of-field distortion to Mosse’s work on the whole. We see it in the photographs of airplane wreckage, such as C27 Beaver Creek and 727 Santo Domingo. And though it is not present in the photographs of the impossibly shot-up wrecks of cars that Mosse captured also while embedded with the US military, these objects’ own distortions, and the sandstorm atmospheres that envelope them, would seem to reproduce that formal trick here at the level of content.
It would seem safe to say that with this body of work, which he shot while on the first year of two-year Annenberg Fellowship, Mosse opens up a new and promising chapter in the analytic of the sublime.
Photo District News
Article: Beautiful Disasters
By: Conor Risch
In November, the Irish-born photographer Richard Mosse’s exhibition “The Fall” went on display at Jack Shainman Gallery in New York. It included images of aircraft downed in remote areas around the globe, American and Japanese automobiles abandoned in the Iraqi desert after the US invasion, a series on Saddam Hussein’s bombastic and now crumbling palaces, and other symbols of decay, ruin and once grand plans that have come to nothing.
He completed the images thanks to a two-year Leonore Annenberg Fellowship in the Performing and Visual Arts, which he received in 2008 shortly after earning his MFA. He was among the first group of artists to win the new fellowship, which came with a substantial grant. He half-jokingly attributes winning the grant to the “hand of god.”
For the fellowship application, he proposed a dozen projects, all connected by his interests in history and “things of scale,” that would take him all over the world to make photographs of things falling apart, in decay, or simply not where they’re supposed to be. Among the subjects were beached whales in Tasmania, Armenian churches in Eastern Turkey, and Fascist architecture in Mogadishu, Somalia, which he notes has “been written over like a palimpsest by civil war.”
Mosse had previously created a series of images of air disaster simulators used to train emergency personnel. When that series had run its course he was looking for another way to continue exploring the air disaster theme. While watching a Werner Herzog film, Fata Morgana, a non-linear documentary exploration of mirage phenomena shot in the Sahara, Mosse was entranced by a shot of a downed airplane in the desert, and began to do online research into air wrecks. He discovered a community of “wreck-chasers” who discuss downed aircraft in forums, and post photographs they’ve taken of the crash sites.
In November 2008 he journeyed to Argentina to photograph an air wreck in the Andean mountains, then continued to make several photographs of downed aircraft in other remote parts of the world using an 8 x 10 camera and color negative film. Mosse avoided evoking the narrative drama of the plane crash in his pictures, instead concentrating on treating the wreckage like pieces of sculpture. “I’m going for beauty, because I do find these wrecks aesthetically powerful, beautiful things.”
Many of the aircraft have been stripped; all are weathered by time and the environment. In one photograph, snow casts light off the punctured steel fuselage of an aircraft as mountains stretch off in the distance. The tail of a downed military transport Mosse shot in Alberta is decorated with graffiti and riddled with bullet holes.
The visual theme of shot-up wreckage carries through to Mosse’s photographs of foreign automobiles abandoned in the remote reaches of the Iraqi desert. Looking for a way to explore the increasingly abstract idea of war—“We don’t even use manned aircraft anymore to kill people,” he notes—Mosse was drawn to the cars as symbols of absurdity and globalization. He purposefully photographed the wrecks during the intense dust storms that regularly slowed the war machine in Iraq to add a further sense of the bizarre. The color spectrum in the storms completely threw off the color neg film he used and he had to work hard on the scans to reduce the noise.
Mosse’s “Breach” series, only three of which were in the exhibition at Jack Shainman Gallery, show the American military’s occupation of Saddam’s palaces. In an interview with BDLG BLOG, Mosse pointed out the irony of liberators operating from the “throne” of the oppressor they deposed. He also noted how many of the palaces, several built shoddily from substandard materials due to trade embargoes and Saddam’s unrealistic demands, are falling into disrepair.
Mosse chose to bring these distinct bodies of work together for exhibition under the title “The Fall,” originally his name for the downed aircraft series, because each related to his interest in the end point of masculinity, where masculinity becomes so inflated it undermines itself,” a theme he explores through his presentation of the images.
For the show, Mosse printed the photographers nearly life-size and face-mounted them to plexiglas; he says he did that in parody, rather than imitation, of the large scale of today’s gallery prints. There’s something overly theatrical about a large print,” he says. He also rejects “the univocal heroic voice of the white male photographer who strikes out intrepidly into the wilderness to photograph these remote wrecks,” and says any grandeur that might be attached to his own journeys is undermined by the fact that his source material for the downed planes exists on internet forums.
Mosse, who is midway through his second fellowship year and has further travels planed, recently purchased a 12 x 20 camera “the size of a boat.” The images could go bigger he says. There’s something a bit ridiculous about it, but also overwhelmingly powerful, a bit like an air disaster.”
But Mosse isn’t only poking fun. The exhibition prints from “The Fall” may be parodies, but, he points out they’re made with the very highest production quality.
Article: In Conversation with Richard Mosse
By: Han Michaud
Richard Mosse, Curtiss Commando Manitoba, 2009, Digital C-print face-mounted to plexi; 71 1/2 x 95 1/2 inches, Courtesy the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery
Richard Mosse: The Fall
Jack Shainman Gallery
513 West 20th Street
New York, NY
19 November through 23 December, 2009
What, I asked myself while surrounded by Richard Mosse’s photographs, is he after? I kept seeing these pieces of man-made machines of transport and war as alone, isolated, abandoned, alienated and forgotten. They were cast-offs, cast-aways, not swept up into the dustbin of history but truly unseen by most, unimagined and unknown. Was Mr. Mosse attempting a kind of rescue of these relics? Or was he placing himself in a similar situation to these artifacts? Did he posit himself, tracking down these things, as similarly disregarded? It’s a question that puzzled and fascinated me. The images themselves are preposterously beautiful.
In addition to the previous question, I had another. I was reminded of myself as a young boy, taken to long explorations of the vast area behind my grandmother’s property. Exploring this neck of the woods, this unknown expanse, at one point I came across the ruins of a World War II radio tower. It froze me then, much like these photographs freeze me now. They encompass within their boundaries the drive towards not only exploration and discovery but also the notion and great possibility of getting lost. What would it be to get lost in some of the areas Richard Mosse has explored? It would mean death, in no uncertain terms. And death as a signifier is crystal-clear: it is the place where any and all decisions, including the decisions to traipse around the globe in search of disappeared and forgotten relics, are rendered moot, a realm where choice is nonexistent; hence, all confusion, anxiety and despair is silenced. I wondered, then, if Richard Mosse’s exploration into these far-away territories, these polar-bear-infested wilds, these war-zones, and the resulting images, are records of an attempt to peer into an inner landscape of peace, or rest.
Ultimately, I was asking myself if Mr. Mosse was after the images themselves, or if the resulting photographs are records of his process of hunting down that psychic area where choice and confusion have been whittled down to unimportant, noninvasive nubs.
Hans Michaud: Could you describe the original impetus for capturing these images?
Richard Mosse: Contemporary art's greatest strength is its potential to make visible what cannot be seen, pointing to the limits of experience and representation. Photography, meanwhile, is firmly rooted in the world of things as it carries a trace, an actual physical memory of the world at a specific time and place. Between these poles, then, I discern, photography's unique potential to represent human suffering which is, after all, something that cannot be represented. I cannot feel your pain. You cannot adequately express your pain. It is an essentially private affair, yet it is something experienced by all of us. Starting from these basic ideas, I'm hoping to find a better way to describe the catastrophe, which I feel is something that defines our era.
HM: Why airplanes?
RM: I feel there's no finer, more violent, more succinct, more international, and more culturally loaded expression of the catastrophe than the air disaster. However, a plane crash is a very difficult thing to photograph. You can stand under the flight path of JFK with your camera each morning for years and you won't get anything that resembles an air disaster. Or you can reenact Chris Burden's piece 747 and stand under the flight path of LAX for ten minutes, fire off a pistol at a jumbo jet, and take a photo of that. The documentary photographer has a terribly difficult life compared with the conceptual artist. But like Prometheus and Loki, we're both tied to the same rock.
Why airplanes? The air disaster holds tremendous traumatic power. An airliner in vertical descent is a spectacle of modernity's failure. It is horrifying but also aesthetically powerful and depicts unstoppable globalization. It's for these reasons that terrorists covet the air disaster. Terrorism is not an act of warfare. It's a form of advertising, and it's aim is not primarily to kill, but to capture the popular imagination through killing. Artists, particularly those working in photography, with its relation to advertising, have every right to enter the terrorist's symbolic order and violate the same taboos.
HM: The current show also portrays images of shredded four-wheeled vehicles, in the desert. What was the drive to capture these, in contrast to the capturing of airplanes and jets?
RM: I couldn't resist photographing these ciphers in the Iraqi dust storm. The dust storm is the battlefield's ultimate palette, caking the eyes and lips of the artist, and confusing the camera with its unworldly colour spectrum. Even the sound of the landscape is affected by this environmental assault. I felt breathless and paranoid, rather like I'd found myself plunged deep underwater. Yet there was something fabulous about the wreckage and the missing horizon. These are American and Japanese vehicles in the Iraqi landscape, a family-size Chrysler minivan blown apart like a Giacometti sculpture.
HM: Is there something about the remoteness of these relics that is appealing to you? The process of discovery and hunting down these objects?
RM: The plane crash photos are the result of months of online research, skimming forums, Youtube videos, flickr, etc., searching for forgotten relics which are so remote to civilization that they only really exist in the virtual imagination of transient and anonymous online communities. What I'm doing here is engaging with my own imagination. I'm searching for the real in the simulacrum. The web is a sort of mirror that allows me to dream. I then make that dream my own through genuine intrepid experience, by striking out into the world and hiring a helicopter or an all-terrain vehicle, and negotiating the natural wilderness, sometimes very far indeed from human infrastructure.
Like 19th century survey photography, it's a process of charting the unknown. But it's also a kind of picaresque quest narrative. The epic, univocal, and highly-produced nature of my imagery is undermined by the surrounding online mass of highly compressed snapshot images from which the work has been derived. This is nothing more than a project of re-photographing existing imagery, a kind of parody of photography's epic impulse. The work has echoes of the poète maudit, the immoral artist figure who will go to any extreme, transgressing any boundaries in pursuit of the ultimate aesthetic experience.
HM: Do downed planes signify anything to you other than enticing, strange and beautiful objects/images in and of themselves?
RM: I am drawn to a crystallization of themes surrounding the air disaster. Control. Remoteness. Hiddenness. Archeology. Time. Environment. Form. Scale. Quest. Taboo. In making the image, I'm aiming towards something aligned in spirit with Caspar David Friedrich's painting, Das Eismeer (1823-24). Spatial remoteness becomes temporal remoteness, and the forgotten plane wreck is swallowed by the primeval landscape.
HM: Remote, left-for-trash, downed airplanes seem extraordinarily vulnerable. Care to comment?
RM: Yes, they're also incredibly rare. But where they exist, they're irresistible not just to humans, but also to animals. I helicoptered into a very remote swamp in the Yukon Territories to photograph an old C-47 wreck and found an animal, perhaps an otter or mink or even a beaver, had built a nest out of reeds in the shelter of the belly of the wreck. And birds had propped their nests in holes in the tail of the fin.
HM: Did you start out as a photographer? Please describe your artistic development.
RM: My artist parents forbade me to go to art school, under threat of being disowned. So I studied English literature instead. When I graduated I realised that I was totally unemployable. So I went back to school to take a Masters in Cultural Studies. When I graduated I realised that I was even less employable. So I cut my losses and went to art school, much to my family's chagrin.
HM: What is/are your current project(s)?
RM: I'm hoping to take a long boat ride up the Congo with my wooden camera, shooting the landscape with colour infrared film so that the green jungle foliage turns red.
Monday, December 21, 2009
Article: Leviathan: An Interview with Richard Mosse
Interview by: Geoff Manaugh
Photographer Richard Mosse, originally from Ireland, is a graduate of the Yale MFA program in photography, as well as a recipient of a Leonore Annenberg Fellowship in the Performing and Visual Arts. This Fellowship has funded Mosse's ongoing and extraordinary series of travels around the world.
Readers of BLDGBLOG will recognize his work from its previous appearances here—whether that's the air disaster simulations of a year or two back or the full interview with Mosse about his, until then, unpublished photographs of Saddam Hussein's palaces.
Having worked together all Autumn as part of the quarantine studio here in New York, Mosse and I coordinated another interview, via email, about his most recent solo exhibition. That show, called The Fall, features photographs of extremely remote airplane crash sites, with often partially dismantled or disintegrated wrecks disappearing into an uninhabited landscape; Mosse compares these structures to the Arctic shipwrecks and ruined forest abbeys of painter Caspar David Friedrich. The images will be on display for only two more days—closing Wednesday, 23 December 2009—at New York's Jack Shainman Gallery.
In the following interview, Richard Mosse discusses the visual representation of catastrophe; conceptual links between terrorism, advertising, and photography; the 2006 disappearance of pilot Steve Fossett; surveillance subcultures along the U.S./Mexico border; the short fiction of J.G. Ballard; and Werner Herzog's film Fata Morgana.
BLDGBLOG: I'd like to start off with a fairly practical question: how do you actually locate these plane wrecks, many of which received no media coverage at all?
Mosse: These photos are the result of months of online research, skimming forums, YouTube videos, Google Earth, Flickr, emailing wreck chasers, and cold-calling bush pilots. I'd even surf the web for jpegs of plane wrecks, then bring this information into Google Earth in the hopes of finding tiny silhouettes of downed planes. I was searching for accidents so disintegrated and remote to civilization that they only really exist in the virtual imagination of transient and anonymous online communities. Others had become landmarks, a destination for the intrepid to come and leave their trace.
Like 19th-century survey photography, it became a process of charting the unknown—but it's also a kind of picaresque quest narrative. I think the work has echoes of the poète maudit, the immoral artist figure who will go to any extreme, transgressing any boundaries in pursuit of the ultimate aesthetic experience.
BLDGBLOG: Abstractly speaking, was it that idea of trespassing and transgression—photographing something that terrifies so many people and that so few people actually witness or see—that drew you to this project?
Richard Mosse: I’m fascinated by contemporary art’s ability to point to the limits of experience, making visible what can't otherwise be represented. Photography, meanwhile, is supposed to be rooted in the world of things, as it carries an actual physical memory of the world at a specific time and place. Between these poles, I think photography has a unique potential to represent human suffering—which is, after all, something that cannot be represented. I cannot literally feel your pain; you cannot adequately express that pain. Pain is an essentially private affair, yet it is something experienced by all of us. Starting from these basic ideas, I'm hoping to find a better way to describe the catastrophe. By this I mean a totalizing concept of warfare, disaster, the battlefield—the things that define our era but which have become increasingly abstract, impersonalized, invisible, simulated and global.
So how is the catastrophe popularly represented? Through terrorism. Terrorism is a gesture of advertising; it’s a literary act, a form of representation, before all else. Its aim is not primarily to kill, but to capture the popular imagination through killing. It’s for this reason that I’m drawn to the air disaster: there is no finer, more succinct, more international, and more culturally loaded expression of the catastrophe than a plane crash. An airliner in vertical descent is a spectacle of modernity's complete failure. It is horrifying, but also aesthetically powerful—and it's for these reasons that terrorists covet the air disaster. I feel that photographers, who work in close proximity to advertising, can enter the terrorist’s symbolic order and violate the same taboos.
Like the catastrophe, the air disaster is virtually impossible to represent. After the Continental crash near Buffalo last year, I traveled immediately to the site. It was totally inaccessible. In only a few hours, various authorities had come together to form a kind of firewall around the event; it had become opaque with layers of jurisdiction.
BLDGBLOG: How did you manage to get near the wreckage?
Mosse: The plane had crashed into a suburban neighborhood, and state troopers were waving down the traffic about a mile or so from the site. I parked up in the woods nearby, slung my camera and tripod in a shoulder bag, and trespassed through people’s backyards in the hope of being taken for a resident. I was able to walk almost to the crash site itself, about 100 yards from the wreckage, where I stood and watched the disaster bureaucracy arrange and rearrange itself while body bags were carried out.
Unable to get any closer than that, and with no clear line of sight, I looked for some trace of the disaster violating this residential idyll and found police tape slung around trees whose branches had been broken by the crash. I set up the tripod and within about twelve seconds the veil had closed in. First came the local officers, and then the Feds. They kept me there for about an hour, ran my name and social security number, and threatened me with arrest.
I began to understand this larger project as a kind of deferral: I started to look sideways at the air disaster through older wrecks, forgotten relics in the middle of nowhere. There are layers of deferral here which attempt to access a crystallization of themes surrounding the air disaster. Control. Remoteness. Archaeology. Time. Environment. Form. Scale. Quest. The hidden. Taboo. In making these images, I'm aiming towards something aligned in spirit with Caspar David Friedrich's painting, Das Eismeer: spatial remoteness becomes temporal remoteness, and the forgotten plane wreck is swallowed by the primeval landscape.
Das Eismeer (1823-24) by Caspar David Friedrich.
BLDGBLOG: Friedrich's Arctic shipwreck brings to mind a pretty incredible video that you've put together, called Leviathan. It features wrecked airplanes emerging from, or being dropped into, the sea. Can you tell me more about that project?
Mosse: I met an extraordinary Dutchman out in Thailand who is known in wreck-chasing circles as the Dakota Hunter. Once an advertising director for a cigarette company, the Dakota Hunter ventures into the world's remotest places to salvage the wingtips of C-47 Dakotas, which he then ships back to the Netherlands to be sandblasted and turned into luxury tables for boardrooms and executive offices. He very generously tipped me off about a Thai-organized project sinking Dakota aircraft into the waves off Phuket. These aircraft were vintage American military bombers (and Sikorsky attack helicopters) from the Vietnam War that had been donated to the Thai Army upon America's withdrawal from Saigon. They had been flown by the Thai Air Force until they could fly no longer, and have since lain rusting in the jungle.
But the diving clubs of Phuket, struggling to re-stimulate the dive-tourism industry as well as the coral reef environment that had been virtually wiped out by the recent tsunami, came up with the idea of sinking these decommissioned aircraft onto the ocean floor.
I pulled this footage from Thailand together with a second video showing the 2009 US Airways crash in the Hudson River. In this piece, I became fascinated by themes of tourism, disaster, globalization, the military-industrial complex, and history. But most of all, I'm drawn to the aesthetic power of the air disaster, and the majesty of watching airplanes be submerged and re-emerge from water, like a kind of baptismal rite. The sea has a wide array of psychoanalytic and mythic associations which I feel produce sparks of meaning when they coincide with the airplane's modern form.
You can watch an unfinished version of the film below. This was shot and edited by Trevor Tweeten, with coloring and post-production by Jerome Thelia, and sound by Martin Clarke. Please note that this piece is not yet finished; it's just an early draft.
BLDGBLOG: You're not a pilot yourself, meanwhile, so getting to these sites must have required a tremendous amount of assistance. Can you tell me a bit more about the people who helped you visit—like the Dutchman in Thailand—and the process you had to go through to get to these places?
Mosse: I actually had to abandon one trip to see a wreck in a high mountain pass because of bear-paw prints in the snow! On my return trip, I brought a local fellow with a shotgun. I asked him whether he’d ever had an encounter with a bear, but he wouldn’t tell me, saying that he’d give me an answer after we reached the wreck and were making our way back down the mountain. Once I’d finished making the photograph and we’d started for home, I asked impatiently for an answer. He told a fabulous story of being charged by a five hundred pound grizzly who picked him up in her jaws and flung him like a ragdoll. Lucky for him, he managed to fire a shot at the bear while it was coming at him, saving his life. He showed me the wounds on his shoulder and forearm.
That trip was by all-terrain vehicle—with a few hours of heavy walking through snow—but, on other forays, I’ve hired a helicopter. I had a choice of pilots in a town in the Yukon, and decided to go with the Swiss pilot, thinking he’d be safer. But he totally failed to find the wreck and flew me to the top of a mountain range where we sallied out into the snow to frown at the horizon. I made a second attempt the same day with a different pilot, one who had lived there all his life. He took me straight to the wreck and suggested many others. Always shop local.
Another pilot dropped me into a swamp, way out in the Yukon wilderness. He left me there alone and flew off to refuel. I had to wade up to my armpits in the swampy water for hours, apprehensive that the helicopter would never return. But my fears were forgotten when I discovered that an animal, perhaps an otter or a mink, had built a nest out of reeds in the shelter of the belly of the plane wreck, and birds had propped their nests in holes in the back fin.
BLDGBLOG: What about particularly unexpected or surreal plane wrecks?
Mosse: The tail of an old Nazi Junkers was discovered while dredging a lake in northern Finland. I suppose nobody knew what to do with it, because it was simply dumped in the car park of a supermarket, in the same sort of place that joyriders might abandon a burned out car. I like to imagine the local people driving carefully around the old Nazi tailfin, and it becoming a well-known attraction in the region.
There’s also a crashed Cold War bomber that has been salvaged from the Icelandic wastes and is now used as a garden shed. And, in Sicily, the remains of an Alitalia disaster were propped proudly on the roof of a scrap merchant’s shed. Sadly, this monument no longer survives.
But scrappers are not always the plane wreck’s enemy. At 13,000 feet in the Patagonian Andes, there’s an old Curtiss Commando which has been neatly cannibalized leaving only the cockpit. In the winter, flamingoes migrate to this freezing and inhospitable salt lake in northwest Argentina to mate.
BLDGBLOG: When Steve Fossett, the aviator, disappeared over Nevada last year, there was a huge technological effort to find his plane again—people using Google Earth from all over the world, for instance, to spot the wreckage. It became a kind of landscape challenge. Did the enormous response to that air disaster, or even the public's use of satellite surveillance technology, have any influence on your project?
Mosse: The hunt for Fossett’s wreck on Google Earth reminds me of a group of webcam vigilantes who I discovered while shooting on the Mexican border. These anti-immigration volunteers spend their free time monitoring footage from live border cameras situated in the Sonoran Desert or overlooking the banks of the Rio Grande River. I've encountered these surveillance camera rigs in the middle of absolutely nowhere along the US-Mexico border. The project, BlueServo Virtual Borderwatch is a public-private partnership described by Justin Hall as “an innovative real-time surveillance program designed to empower the public to proactively participate in fighting border crime.”
I’m intrigued by the idea of people logging into, and staring at, live webcam views of an unchanging landscape on their home computers. What drives people to do this? I suppose it's the same lure that draws people to Google Earth. These are both a pursuit of the real within—and through—simulacra, and you are apprehending the world as if it were a computer game. That is enormously empowering, because the tools at your disposal are extremely powerful. You can go virtually anywhere without putting yourself at risk.
But, ultimately, it’s a form of entertainment: you’re consuming a representation of the world—one that’s been produced—and not representing the world for yourself.
BLDGBLOG: In J.G. Ballard’s fiction, there is often a character who is a wounded aviator—someone who’s been in a minor plane crash or car accident, has a ruined knee, and can never fly again. They are exiled on the earth, so to speak. Ballard sometimes included lost aviators in his fiction: amateur pilots who have taken on the air of Arthurian knights flying pioneer missions into the skies of undiscovered worlds. Does this romance or mythology of the figure of the pilot—not the airplane—have any role in your interest in photographing crash sites? There's even someone like Amelia Earhart, whose disappearance only amplified her already global fame.
Mosse: Certainly. Since I was a boy, I’ve been haunted by Ballard’s story of a journalist visiting the site of an air disaster in the Mexican mountains. But I’m also thinking along the lines of Robert Smithson or Bas Jan Ader: the artist heading out to his death in the wilderness, like the protagonist at the end of Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man, whose body disappears into a ghostly fog on a drifting boat.
Image from Fata Morgana, directed by Werner Herzog.
BLDGBLOG: Finally, is there a crash site that you really want to get to but either haven’t had the time to visit or the wreck might even just be a rumor, an urban legend?
Mosse: That would have to be the plane wreck in Werner Herzog's Fata Morgana. It was like an epiphany for me when Herzog’s lens comes across this ruin in the Saharan desert; he examines the twisted form as if it were a sculpture in the landscape, like the Sphinx. I immediately pressed rewind and watched the scene again and again, swearing to myself that I would retrace his journey south through Algeria to search for the ruin. Impossible to find.
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
Article: Saddam’s Palaces: An Interview with Richard Mosse
Interview by: Geoff Manaugh
These extraordinary images—published here for the first time—show the imperial palaces of Saddam Hussein converted into temporary housing for the U.S military. Vast, self-indulgent halls of columned marble and extravagant chandeliers, surrounded by pools, walls, moats, and, beyond that, empty desert, suddenly look more like college dormitories. Weight sets, flags, partition walls, sofas, basketball hoops, and even posters of bikini'd women have been imported to fill Saddam's spatial residuum. The effect is oddly decorative, as if someone has simply moved in for a long weekend, unpacking an assortment of mundane possessions.
The effect is like an ironic form of camouflage, making the perilously foreign seem all the more familiar and habitable—a kind of military twist on postmodern interior design.
Of course, then you notice, in the corner of the image, a stray pair of combat boots or an abandoned barbecue or a machine gun leaned up against a marble wall partially shattered by recent bomb damage—amidst the dust of collapsed ceilings and ruined tiles—and this architecture, and the people who now go to sleep there every night, suddenly takes on a whole new, tragic narrative.
BLDGBLOG: What was the basic story behind your visit to Iraq? Was it self-funded or sponsored by a gallery?
Richard Mosse: The trip was backed by a Leonore Annenberg Fellowship in the Performing and Visual Arts, which I received after graduating from Yale last summer with an MFA in photography. The Fellowship provides enough to fund two full years of traveling to make new photographs, and I applied to shoot in a range of places, including Iraq. My proposal was to make work around the idea of the accidental monument. I'm interested in the idea that history is something in a constant state of being written and rewritten—and the way that we write history is often plain to see in how we affect the world around us, in the inscriptions we make on our landscape, and in what stays and what goes.
I suppose it's an idea that captured me while traveling through Kosovo in 2004. I saw a building by the side of the road there that lay mined and shattered in a field of flowers. It was almost entirely collapsed—except for a church cupola which lay at a pendulous angle, though otherwise perfectly intact on a pile of rubble. It was a marvelously pictorial vision of the Kosovo Albanian desire to rewrite the history books. In other words, what I saw before me was not an act of mere vandalism, but a decisive act by the Kosovo Albanian community to disavow the fact of Serb Orthodox church heritage in the region. The removal of religious architecture is a terrible crime, and it constitutes an act of ethnic cleansing (remember Kristallnacht); yet I couldn't help but interpret this as an attempt to create a brave new Kosovo Albanian world.
I began to see architecture as something that can reveal the ways in which we alter the past in order to construct a new future, as a site in which past, present, and future come together to be reformed. And it's not the only one: language—our words and the way we use them—are another fine barometer of these things.
But architecture is something I felt I could research and portray using the dumb eye of my camera.
BLDGBLOG: Beyond the most obvious reasons—for instance, there's a war going on—why did you go to Iraq? Was there something in particular that you were hoping to see?
Mosse: I had heard plenty about Saddam's palaces. They were the focus of the International Atomic Energy Association's tedious investigations in the years preceding the invasion, and the news was always full of delegations being turned away from this or that palace. Why were we so keen to get inside Saddam's palaces? Because he built so many—81 in total. Surely, we thought, he must be hiding something in those palace complexes. Surely he must be building subterranean particle accelerators. And, in the end, our curiosity got the better of us.
In fact, Saddam was building palaces in every city as an expression of his authority. Palace architecture in Iraq served as a constant reminder of Saddam's immanence. A palace in your city simply fed the sense that Saddam was not just nearby—he was everywhere. Saddam was omnipresent.
I once heard a Westerner tell me that, prior to the invasion, Iraqis driving near one of Saddam's palaces would actually avert their eyes—they would refuse to look toward the palace. It was almost as if they were prisoners in a great outdoor version of Jeremy Bentham's Panopticon. Curiously, the sentry towers along the perimeter walls of Al-Salam Palace in Baghdad face only outward; they're screened from looking inward at the palace itself. People say it's so the guards could not witness Saddam's eldest son Uday's relations with underage girls, but I rather like to think that it created a sense of the unseen authoritarian staring blankly outwards. It was like those ominous black turrets that the British army constructed over the hills of Belfast, packed with listening devices and telescopic cameras.
But the idea of Iraqis averting their eyes from Saddam's palace architecture also reminds me of something from W.G. Sebald's book On the Natural History of Destruction.
BLDGBLOG: That's an incredible book – I still can't forget his descriptions of tornadoes of fire whirling through bombed cities and melting asphalt.
Mosse: Sebald recounts how the German population, after the end of WWII, would ride the trains, staring into their laps or at the ceiling—anywhere but out the window at the terrible wreckage of their cities. It was as if they were somehow disavowing the war by willing it away, by refusing to perceive it.
It's interesting, then, that, in both instances—in both Iraq and in post-war Germany—it's the tourist, or the outsider, who observes this blindness. I suppose that's why I like to make photographs in foreign places: only the tourist notices the really dumb things that everyone else takes for granted.
BLDGBLOG: The way these structures have been colonized is often amusing and sometimes shocking—the telephones, desks, and instant dormitories that turn an imperial palace into what looks like a suburban office or hospital waiting room. Can you describe some of the spatial details of these soldiers' lives that most struck you?
Mosse: It was extraordinary how some of the palace interiors had been transformed to accommodate the soldiers. Troops scurried beneath vaulted ceilings and glittering faux-crystal chandeliers. Lofty marble columns towered over rat runs between hastily constructed chipboard cubicles. Obama's face beamed out of televisions overlooking the freezers and microwaves of provisional canteen spaces.
Many of the palaces have already been handed back to the Iraqis—but where Americans troops do remain, they live in very cramped conditions, pissing into a hole in the ground and waiting days just to shower. Life is hard on the front line, and it seems more than a little surreal to be ticking off the days in a dictator's pleasure dome.
The most interesting thing about the whole endeavor for me was the very fact that the U.S. had chosen to occupy Saddam's palaces in the first place. If you're trying to convince a population that you have liberated them from a terrible dictator, why would you then sit in his throne? A savvier place to station the garrison would have been a place free from associations with Saddam, and the terror and injustices that the occupying forces were convinced they'd done away with. Instead, they made the mistake of repeating history.
This is why I've titled this body of work Breach. "Breach" is a military maneuver in which the walls of a fortification (or palace) are broken through. But breach also carries the sense of replacement—as in, stepping into the breach. The U.S. stepped into the breach that it had created, replacing the very thing that it sought to destroy.
There are other kinds of breach—such as a breach of faith, a breach of confidence, or the breach of a whale rising above water for air. All of these senses were important to me while working on these photographs.
BLDGBLOG: In several of these photos, the soldiers are literally lifting tiles up from the floor as if the buildings had been left unfinished, or they're peering through cracks in the palace walls. From what you could see, were Saddam's palaces badly constructed or were they just heavily damaged during the war?
Mosse: Tiles simply fell from Al-Faw Palace because the cement used there had been poorly salinated. If that can happen to tiles, think what's happening when the entire palace has been built on similarly salinated foundations! It's just a matter of time before Al-Faw collapses in on itself. You can already see arches cracking and walls beginning to sag.
But I'm reluctant to include images of U.S. soldiers pointing out problems with Saddam's architecture, because it's fairly evident that those could be a form of propaganda—and it's easy to forget that many of these palaces were built during times of terrible sanctions imposed by the West. It might not seem very clear why Saddam was busy building palaces in a time of sanctions, but remember how the WPA was set-up during the Great Depression? I don't want to risk being called an apologist for Saddam, but there are many ways to read a story.
That said, the palace is a fabulous monument to rushed construction, poor materials, and gaudy pomp. Saddam had apparently insisted that the palace be finished within two years, so many shortcuts were taken during construction. For example, the stairway banisters were made of crystallized gypsum—rather than carved marble—and where pieces didn't quite fit together, they were just sanded down rather than replaced. Marble that was used in the palace (such as in the great spacious bathrooms) was imported from Italy, in spite of the trade embargo. And the plaster cast frescoes in the ceilings were imported from Morocco.
Al-Faw Palace later became the U.S, Army's Command HQ, located at the heart of Camp Victory, near Baghdad International Airport. The palace is now teeming with generals, including General Odierno, the commander of coalition forces in Iraq. It's a great, tiered wedding-cake structure, built around an inner hall with possibly the biggest and ugliest chandelier ever made. In fact, the chandelier is not made of crystal, but from a lattice of glass and plastic.
The palace itself is then surrounded by a lake, which seems a bit like a moat—and it would be tempting to take a swim there, but the moat has been turned into a standing pool for Camp Victory's sewage. In the summer, the place must be rather unpleasant: rank in all senses of the word, both military and sanitary. These artificial lakes surrounding the palace are also populated by the infamous "Saddam Bass." It's said that Saddam would feed the bodies of his political opponents to these monsters. In fact, they're not bass at all, but a breed of asp fish. U.S. troops stationed at Camp Victory love to fish on these lakes, and a 105-pound specimen was recently caught.
BLDGBLOG: How was your own presence received by those soldiers? Did you present yourself as a photojournalist or as an art photographer?
Mosse: The difference between art and journalism is, for me, of paramount importance—but twenty minutes in Iraq, and the dialectic recedes. I got a vague sense that Americans working there feel a little forgotten—unappreciated by people at home—so they're very grateful for a camera, any camera, coming through. Even a big 8"x10" bellows camera with an Irishman in a cape. There were a lot of rather obvious photographs that I chose not to make, and occasionally someone got offended by this.
BLDGBLOG: What was the soldiers' opinion of these buildings? Did they ever just wander around and explore them, for instance, or was that a safety violation?
Mosse: I got the feeling that soldiers who occupied one of Saddam's palaces were pretty interested in its original function. They seemed a lot more together, and happier with their job, compared with the troops I met on the massive, sprawling, purpose-built military bases in the Iraqi desert. Constant reminders of hierarchy and protocol were everywhere on the bigger bases—but on the more cramped and less comfortable palace bases, soldiers of different ranks seemed much closer and more capable of shooting the shit with each other, to borrow an American turn of phrase.
Though a far tougher environment, there seemed to be real job satisfaction—a sense that they were taking part in a piece of history.
BLDGBLOG: Architect Jeffrey Inaba once joked, in an interview with BLDGBLOG, that Saddam's palaces look a bit like McMansions in the suburbs of New Jersey. He quipped that "the architecture of state power and the architecture of first world residences don’t seem that far apart. Saddam’s palaces, while they’re really supposed to be about state power, look not so different from houses in New Jersey." They're not intimidating, in other words; they're just tacky. They're kitsch. Now that you've actually been inside these palaces, though, what do you think of that comparison?
Mosse: Well, I've never been inside a New Jersey McMansion, so I can't pass judgment. However, "McMansion" is a term borrowed by us in Ireland, where I'm from. Ireland was hard-hit by English penal laws, from the 17th century onward. One of those laws was the Window Tax. This cruel levy was imposed as a kind of luxury tax, to take money from anyone who had it; the result was that Irish vernacular architecture became windowless. The Irish made good mileage on the half-door, for instance, a kind of door that can be closed halfway down to keep the cattle out but still let the light in.
Aside from this innovation, and from subtleties in the method of thatching, Irish architecture never fully recovered—to the point that, even today, almost everyone in my country chooses their house from a book called Plan-a-Home, which you can buy for 15 euros. And if you have extra cash to throw in, you can flick to the back of the book and choose one of the more spectacular McMansions. Those are truly Saddam-esque.
BLDGBLOG: Finally, the "Green Zone," as well as many of these palaces, are notoriously insular, cut-off behind security walls from the rest of Iraq. Did you actually feel like you were in Iraq at all—or in some strange architectural world, of walls and dormitories, surrounded by homesick Americans?
Mosse: Not all of Saddam's palaces are as isolated from reality as those situated in the green zone (or international zone, as it's now called). One I visited near Tikrit—Saddam's Birthday Palace—was even right at the heart of the city. Saddam was said to visit the palace each year on his birthday.
Wherever you go on the base, you're eminently shootable—a fantastic sniper target—and can hear the coming and going of Iraqis in the surrounding neighborhoods. It's a remarkable experience to go up to the roof with the pigeons at dusk and watch the changing light. You get a palpable impression of the great tragedy of the Iraq war, and you can see for yourself the fencing between neighborhoods, the rubbish strewn everywhere, the emptiness of the place, and you can hear the packs of dogs baying about. But you can also hear occasional shots fired in the distance, and you get the distinct feeling that you're being watched.
I spent a very slow month in Iraq trying to reach as many of these palaces as possible. I only managed to visit six out of eighty-one palaces. It is impossibly slow going over there, working within the war machine. These palaces are currently being handed back to the Iraqis, and many of them will be repurposed, sold to private developers or demolished. If I could get the interest of a publisher, for instance, I would return to Iraq to complete the project before Saddam’s heritage, and the traces of U.S. occupation, are entirely removed.
MYARTSPACE > BLOG
Sunday, October 19, 2008
Article: Art Space Talk: Richard Mosse
Interview by: Brian Sherwin
Richard Mosse’s photographs and video work often reveal aspects of horror that focus on the fears of society—the devastation of a plane crash or war torn streets. However, his work also notes the aesthetic value of these scenarios as objects. In a sense, his photographs display the reality of these disasters in a manner that one could describe as commercially voyeuristic. His photographs provide a safe zone for viewers to explore the chaos of these scenarios. Viewers often discover an odd sense of beauty in the images due to Mosse's skill as a photographer and selective process.
Richard Mosse has exhibited internationally. He has been involved with group exhibits at the Barbican Art Gallery, Art Chicago, and the Tate Modern. Mosse earned an MFA in Photography at the Yale School of Art. He also studied art at Goldsmiths.
Brian Sherwin: Richard, my understanding is that you originally studied literature and language in college. You then studied art at Goldsmiths and earned an MFA in Photography from Yale School of Art in 2008. Can you discuss your academic background and how it has influenced you as an artist? For example, did you have any influential instructors?
Richard Mosse: The BA in English provided an excellent grounding in literary criticism and turned me onto various strategies for reading the text. It also made me comfortable with the notion that every gesture is political, whether or not it is intended to be.
After the BA I studied an MRes (Master of Research) in Cultural Studies at the London Consortium. It was an excellent bridge to making art, and turned the literary tools from the BA into tools for reading the world. I turned in a dissertation on memory and photographic representation in the post-war Balkan nations, after a few months spent traveling and making work in that part of the world.
I suppose what was happening at this stage was that I was starting to challenge my own desire to be a photojournalist. I was looking at ways in which contemporary artists had succeeded in representing pain and suffering where photojournalism had failed.
BS: How is your youth reflected in the work you create today? My understanding is that you were born in Ireland in 1980. Did those years and the travels you have had since influence your art?
RM: My video work usually involves an exchange of some sort with people I can relate to, who are often around my age and interested in the same sorts of things that I am. Youth is less apparent in my still photography, but it’s very much there in the sense of someone whose reading of history (and here I mean current affairs in a state of being written and rewritten) seeks to violate previous narratives beyond the threshold of responsibility.
BS: What attracted you to photography as a means of expressing yourself as compared to other mediums? Can you give our readers some insight into your practice as a photographer?
RM: The camera often feels too comfortable in my hands – which is why I prefer the dark cloth and tripod of large format photography, forcing me to slow down, and hopefully the viewer too. However, many of the places where I photograph require a speedy capture and a sharp exit. For this reason, I try my hardest to let the subject speak for itself. The dumbness of the lens is something that I can’t get over, and is central in constructing images.
"I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking. Recording the man shaving at the window opposite and the woman in the kimono washing her hair. Some day, all this will have to be developed, carefully printed, fixed."-- from Goodbye to Berlin by Christopher Isherwood, 1939
I feel this dumbness is a fabulous tool for unpacking history, probably because it points to the visual amnesia of our times. A bit like we’ve stopped reading novels, we’ve stopped being able to see the still image. We see them but we immediately forget them. David Levi-Strauss wrote about this in an article published on the Open Democracy blog (‘Click here to disappear: thoughts on images and democracy’).
BS: Can you discuss some of your other influences? For example, have any specific artists influenced your work?
RM: Artists and writers who have left their trace include Walter Benjamin, Victor Burgin, Phil Collins, Willie Doherty, Johan Grimonprez, Ori Gersht, Werner Herzog, Marine Hugonnier, Alfredo Jaar, Emily Jacir, Walid Raad, WG Sebald, Robert Smithson, Jem Southam, Thomas Struth, Paul Virilio, Jeff Wall.
BS: Tell us more about your Airside series. My understanding is that the series focuses on understanding how air disasters shape our cultural imagination and how they can be related to the fear and myths of flight throughout history. Can you discuss this further?
RM: You can watch a very beautiful film on Youtube of a controlled air disaster performed by NASA many years ago. They put different coloured powders in each part of the fuselage. At the point of impact, each section of the aircraft produces colourful plumes which are sustained for the few moments it takes for the large plane to be reduced to virtually nothing and captured from several angles on high-speed cine cameras. I want the viewer to understand, as I have, that the air disaster is a profoundly aesthetic object.
Writing about Gehry in 2001, Hal Foster observed that: "Thirty years ago Guy Debord defined spectacle as ‘capital accumulated to such a degree that it becomes an image’. With Gehry and other architects the reverse is now true as well: spectacle is an image accumulated to such a degree that it becomes capital."
In photographing these machines, I wished to elaborate the spectacle of terrorism, insisting on its existence as image (advertisement), an image built in relation to capital. To this end, many of the works from Airside are printed very large and the surface of the face of the photograph is mounted to shiny Plexiglass. I am fascinated by these provisional structures, and how they speak unselfconsciously about our ambivalence to terror, their phallic form baldly revealing our unconscious desire for disaster.
BS: Can you tell us about your video work? Such as ‘Fraternity’ and ‘Jew on a Ball’ and the social implications of those projects?
RM: I had been living in America several months, and was struck over and again at how loud Americans can be. For example, on the train from New York to New Haven, where I lived to attend the Yale MFA, there is a conductor on each carriage. The conductors communicate with each other as well as the driver over the public address system. It strikes me as extraordinary that the passengers can put up with this banal running commentary on the journey, sometimes peppered with small talk and bad jokes. Although I love the quaintness of this form of travel, it rather drove me mad. And so I made Fraternity. For the Open Studios, I played Fraternity on the street outside Yale School of Art, and turned the sound up far too loud. A well dressed man and his good looking family came up and told me this was noise pollution.
Jew On A Ball, was made in Lebanon and London during the Israel-Lebanon War of summer 2006. Naked Jewish boys trying to stay on top of a rubber ball – this was intended as a metaphor for the Jewish homeland: something which the Jew tries but continually fails to stay on top of, and in failing hurts himself, sometimes very badly. And of course, the image of a naked Jew echoes Holocaust imagery, the victim Jew, vulnerable and objectified.
I found the violence of the footage made by the boys disturbing. Although Arabic terms of endearment are less objectified than their Western equivalents, I found certain terms quite dark. For example, it is common to say to your lover, ‘Bury me alive.’ Presenting physical and metaphysical violence alongside each other, I wished to reduce an entrenched and tragic political situation down to the level of a harmful personal relationship, to the point where love and hate are virtually the same thing. As Bono sang, ‘I can’t live / With or without you.’
BS: You have been involved with a number of group shows, including group shows at the Tate Modern, Barbican Art Gallery, and New Insight at Art Chicago. What do you take from group exhibits-- as in the interaction you have with the other artists. Do those experiences inspire you, so to speak? Perhaps you can discuss one of those shows and how the experience made an impact on you?
RM: Bloomberg New Contemporaries, which happens each year in the UK, is a touring group show of between 20-30 selected art school graduates. It’s chosen by a panel of well-known artists which changes each year. The show tours three different cities in the UK, and for each there is a big opening and all the artists, as well as the panel, are flown in for a night of arty parties. It was brilliant, and I am still good friends with some of the other partcipants in that show. More than ‘Goldsmiths class of 2005’, I was more comfortable with ‘New Contemporaries class of 2005’.
There was another superb group show, Belfast’s Ormeau Baths Gallery Perspective Award. It was a group show of about 20 young artists. They brought in Terry Atkinson and Ariella Azoulay to select the award winner, and I was very lucky to win it.
BS: Speaking of exhibits, will you be involved in any upcoming exhibits? Also, where can our readers view your work in person?
RM: Selected works from Airside will be shown from Nov 13 to Dec 20 at Jack Shainman Gallery in New York’s Chelsea district.
BS: Finally, is there anything else you would like to say about your art or the message you strive to convey to viewers?
RM: I had some work scheduled for exhibition in The Aesthetics of Terror, a group show at the Chelsea Art Museum which was cancelled at the last minute. The museum’s curator, Manon Slome, resigned and issued a statement saying that ‘the president of the museum concluded that the show glorified terrorism’ and the show was met by ‘increasing hostility’ from the museum, which ‘evolved into tactics of blocking, demands for change, for the elimination of some work.’ This relationship escalated to the point where the show, if it went ahead, would be highly compromised. Manon and co-curator Joshua Simon decided, with great courage, to pull the show and quit. I was amazed that this kind of thing could happen in New York City.
"The current amazement that the things we are experiencing are ‘still’ possible in the twentieth century is not philosophical. This amazement is not the beginning of knowledge – unless it is the knowledge that the view of history which gives rise to it is untenable." –from ‘Theses on the Philosophy of History’ by Walter Benjamin, translated by Harry Zohn, 1940
The Irish Times
August 15, 2008
Article: All artistic eyes on the Marble City
Review by: Aidan Dunne
...The prevailing mood is wistfully sad, but also constructive and ultimately affirmative. It's tremendously approachable.
So too is Richard Mosse's Trainers at the Heritage Council, next to St Canice's Cathedral. Mosse's photographic and video works juxtapose the real and the simulated in ways that prompt us to look at our relationship to both. His large-scale colour photographs document air-disaster simulations at major airports as well as real disaster sites and scenes of devastation. Killcam is a video incorporating footage of injured soldiers from the Walter Reed Army Medical Centre as they engage in combat simulation games, used there for therapeutic purposes, together with live feed footage of strafing and missile attacks from Iraq, with comments from military personnel.
Thus described, it sounds as if the work could be heavy-handed and overbearing. In fact, the great virtue of Mosse's approach is a certain hands-off quality, as though he is assembling this material and is himself in a state of perplexity about it. In other words, he's not devising an argument and then making and looking for images to substantiate it. He's an observer who is wondering about the nature of the world we've made, but wondering with concentration and insight.
Autumn 2008, issue 56
By: Joanna Bourke
Richard Mosse’s photographs of dummy aeroplanes used at airports to practice extinguishing aircraft fires and rescuing passengers are hardly reassuring either. After the crash landing at Heathrow airport, the Air Accidents Investigation Branch praised the airline’s crew for effectively carrying out evacuation drill, but announced that BA038 had leaked some fuel, something which ‘could have had serious consequences in the event of a fire’. In the photographs, though, the dummy planes are on fire, but the absence of panicking passengers and charred bodies signal that these are virtual accidents. The fire-crew are operating in make-believe worlds, overloaded with sexual symbolism. In one photograph, the phallic-shaped flying machine sits passively in front of the ‘Virgin Atlantic’ logo while fire-crew direct a powerful stream of water at a fire raging in its nether-regions. The once proud flying machine is already dis-membered.
Gone are the days when aeroplanes signified the potency of human achievement, the ability of technology to propel euphoric travellers into other worlds. In the early 1900s, the splendour of flight induced Sigmund Freud to compare the elongated bodies of air-machines to the male sex organ. Famously, Freud observed in A General Introduction to Psycho-Analysis (1910) that the ‘peculiar property’ of the penis was its ability to ‘raise itself upright in defiance of the law of gravity’. Such a feat, he wrote, ‘leads to a symbolic representation by means of balloons, aeroplanes, and just recently, zeppelins’. In dreams, he continued, the ‘organ of sex’ becomes the essential part of the whole person, so that the dreamer himself flies’. Today such flights of fancy have come crashing to the ground. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, the heroic identification of man and machine is no longer compelling. The century’s great symbol of technological prowess is now regarded simply as a major contributor to air pollution and, worse, a killing machine wielded by terrorists and brash governments. In the twenty-first century, all we have left is the empty elongated nose of the fuselage, our dreams of flight merely conjuring up fears of annihilation.
NPR, The Bryant Park Project
Article: Nothing to Declare, Photos from the Mexican Border
By: Ian Chillag
Traveling along the Mexico border on a drive from San Diego, photographer Richard Mosse spotted a rucksack lying by the side of the road. Curiosity got the better of him, and he looked inside. He found clothes, jewelry and cards for learning English. description.
Mosse realized he was looking at the belongings of a woman crossing the border, likely dropped when she had to run. It was the beginning of his project in process, "Nothing to Declare," a series of images of artifacts of journeys across the border.
He's in Arizona today working on it, but you can find the photographs captured so far on his website.
Architectural Conjecture, Urban Speculation, Landscape Futures
February 11, 2008
Article: Air Disaster Simulations
Interview by: Geoff Manaugh, senior editor of Dwell Magazine and blogger behind BLDG BLOG
Photographer Richard Mosse got in touch over the weekend with these photographs of air disaster simulations: fire crews racing to put out temporary fires, amidst fake airplane bodies on the runways of airports all over Europe and the United States.
"I spotted my first air disaster simulator on the tarmac at JFK," Mosse wrote. "You can see it yourself next time you fly into that airport. It's an intimidating black oblong structure situated dangerously close to one of the runways. Ever since, I have hunted for air trainers while taxi-ing across each new airport that I've had the chance to fly into."
When I asked him about the actual photographic process – setting himself up near burning, abstract airplanes in order to get the right shot – Mosse replied: "They are extremely difficult to photograph. First the water jets are turned on to douse the fuselage in water. This is in order to stop the metal warping under the intense heat of the flames. Then a pilot light comes on – and the spectacle begins."
"But before you've had a chance to cock your shutter and take the photo," Mosse continued, "it is all finished."
The firemen have put out the fire in seconds. That's their job, after all. They do this with decisive brevity and great courage, sometimes walking right into flames – but it doesn't make for an easy photograph. It's all a bit like the sexual act: the flames come up and men run in and spray everything with a high power water hose and then it's all over.
But that act entails artistry and technique...
And each airport is different: "The fire crew at each airport is always fiercely proud of their rig," Mosse writes.
One crew invited their family along and held a barbeque to watch the training unfold over the course of an evening. Another crew actually let me use their cherry picker bucket to get my camera into position. At one airport, I was even fully equipped to let me work as close as possible to the flames. During one shoot, a Royal Brunei jumbo hit a piece of debris upon take off and the entire crew were mobilized to battle stations. For security reasons, I hid in a small shed while they dealt with the emergency, which they resolved without incident. But that's why these structures are built: to keep the crew fire fit at all times, always willing to jump into the flames.
It's a kind of anthropological micro-culture of the air disaster simulation crew, eating barbecued chicken and running through flames.
Sometimes mannequins get involved, artificial humans needing to be rescued from situations of extreme peril. Like Ballardian stand-ins, they are scuffed, scraped, and partially blackened by oil and smoke, then surgically repaired with strips of duct tape.
Of course, this reminds me of the Center for Land Use Interpretation's work on law enforcement training architecture, where simulated townscapes play host to staged police raids, fake shoot-outs, and simulated hostage situations. There is even a Laser Village.
As the Center writes: "Whether they are made for police or fire departments, these training sites are stylized versions of ordinary places, with the extraordinary horrors of the anticipated future applied to them on a routine basis."
One location in particular, the Del Valle Training Center, comes complete with "industrial props (including a portion of an oil refinery), vehicle accident props (including propane-powered bus collisions and a collapsed building prop), concrete slab cutting props, shoring training props, confined space rescue props, and other urban search and rescue facilities."
Something tells me Richard Mosse would have a field day there.
In any case, I asked Mosse what the general idea behind this project was, and he explained that, in all his work, he's been trying to show "the ways in which we perceive and consume catastrophe."
The actual disaster is a moment of contingency and confusion. It's all over in milliseconds. It's hidden in a thick cloud of black smoke and you cannot even see it. Battles, ambushes, hijackings, air strikes, terrorism: it's the same with all of these, too. But the catastrophe lives on before the fact and after the fact, as this spectacle. That's why I wanted to photograph the air disaster simulators; they are the air disaster more than the thing itself. We have built in our airports these enormous, absurd, phallic structures with kerosene jets and water sprinklers. They are monuments to our own fear, made within the pared down, hyper-functional, green and black and grey symbolic order of militarized space.
Mosse has also photographed real plane crash sites:
As for the actual plane crashes, these are also difficult to photograph. You must be prepared to travel immediately in order to photograph one, and you don't know if you will even be able to get a photograph of it when you get there. For very good reasons, press photographers are always corralled into a pen at a great distance from the disaster. Most photographers take out their longest lens and zoom right in – but I don't have a zoom lens. I shoot with a wooden field camera, and so I am forced to shoot the disaster in its context, as a landscape photograph. The results end up looking like something approaching early war photography from the 19th century (Roger Fenton, Matthew Brady, Timothy O'Sullivan, etc.).
"I think it's important," Mosse concludes, "that we understand where catastrophe exists in our cultural imagination – where it actually is in reality – which is why I do what I do."
Be sure to check out the rest of Mosse's work on his website, including his photographs of Dubai.
DAMn Magazine, Belgium
Article: Ground Control
Text and Images by: Richard Mosse
Studying a map of Gaza does not reveal much. It's a small piece of land, a strip cut along the coast for less than 30 miles, and inland for a few more. Compared in size with the neighbouring Negev, and the adjacent Sinai Peninsula, Gaza is like the eye of a needle. There are only a few roads on the map. The map is probably obsolete and shows Israeli settlements where now there are none. Israeli roads, too, have been turned to rubble and the flyovers mined by the Israel Defence Force prior to evacuation. The small yellow inch of your map reveals absolutely nothing about Gaza. But in the southeast corner, butted up to the borders with Egypt and Israel, the mapmakers have printed the cartographer's symbol for an international airport. Gaza International Airport, it says.
Gaza – like Afghanistan, Chechnya, Iraq, Lebanon, Somalia – is one of the fronts of a new global war in which the West seeks to influence a hardening of purpose among Islamic peoples. A civil war currently threatens in Gaza. Fatah is being propped up by US contributions and, it is alleged, by weapons shipments from Israel itself. A democratically elected Hamas party, meanwhile, has had its tax contributions suspended by the Israeli Knesset and its foreign aid cut by Western nations. Ismail Haniya, the president of Hamas, has had to gather funds in Iran and the Gulf states and smuggle them across the border through Egypt at the Rafah checkpoint. It’s likely that Iranian arms are finding their way into Gaza in a similar fashion. Where Gazans were once united in a common struggle against an Israeli occupation, they are now divided along party and family lines. In spite of calls from Mahmoud Abbas, head of Fatah, and from Haniya, Gaza is seeing an escalation of sporadic but deadly internecine fighting. At the time of my visit in early January this year, the IDF was refusing any entry to Gaza except to journalists. I managed to wangle a temporary press card from a friend, Dickon Mager, at Sky News in Jerusalem. Sky needed pictures of its new Israel correspondent Dominic Waghorn, so I spent a day taking pictures of him at work in the field in exchange for a safe way into Gaza to see the airport for myself.
In the morning, we visited the remains of the home of a Fatah leader, Mohammed Ghraib. On January 4th, Ghraib was conducting a live telephone interview with Palestine TV from his home in Gaza City. During the interview, Hamas mounted an assault on his house. The attack, Colonel Ghraib’s pleading for help, and his assassination with seven others could be heard broadcast on live television. It was clear that Hamas did not limit their assault to small weapons. The use of RPG launchers was evident in many of the rooms, whose walls were thick with fingers of black tar reaching in long drips from ceiling to floor.
After surveying the wreckage we visited the home of Sameh al-Madhoun, a colleague of Ghraib in the Fatah movement and a commander in the Al Aqsa Martyr’s Brigade. Over small cups of fabulously smooth Arabic coffee, Sameh told us that he was expecting to be assassinated by Hamas in much the same way as Colonel Ghraib. For this reason he was turning his home into a fortress. He and his brothers had piled the walls of their rooftop with sandbags and razor wire. A pair of RPG launchers leaned awkwardly in the corner of the sitting room, and there were several assault rifles about the place. A large cache of ammunition lay beneath Sameh’s bed; a host of cell phones and walkie-talkies were strapped to his body armour. There were dark creases below Sameh’s eyes from lack of sleep. He told us that he had already survived several attempts on his life, and stepped forward to be photographed with a martyr’s care for self-image which is unknown in the West. It involves cold realism, pride, fatalism, vanity, drunken sobriety, and a unique, almost mythic understanding of history.
Having finished my assignment for Sky, I was then free to make my own way to the airport. Though the distance from Gaza City to the airport is about 20 miles, the journey takes a good hour. When I finally arrived, the sun was beginning to thicken with the onset of the afternoon, and the light became beautiful. The airport itself was opened in November 1998 at a ceremony attended by Bill Clinton. It was fully operational until December 2001 when, during the Second Intifada, three Israeli tanks and an armoured bulldozer damaged the runway. But the main terminal building was left untouched. For almost five years, the airport’s staff continued to turn up for work in the morning in spite of the fact that the airport was no longer operational. There were no arrivals and no departures, but the check-in desk was still manned, and the baggage belts were run each day. It must have been a kind of a Marie Celeste airport. I see it as one of those peculiar situations which one comes across in these places. Reality borders the absurd, and you can’t quite work out if the whole thing is comedy or tragedy.
During last summer’s war with Lebanon, the IDF took the opportunity to finish the job off, bombing and vandalizing the terminal building. Before they left the airport their bulldozer scraped the initials IDF in Hebrew into the terminal building. It can only be read from the sky. Now, the airport is being stripped for materials by local looters. It is a ghostly place. As the sky darkened, the looters arrived for another shift. I could hear them at a distance, yelping and singing as they tore the wiring from electrical panels in the control room.
Sameh al-Madhoun was dragged through the streets and killed by a crowd of Hamas supporters on June 14th 2007. His grave at Beit Lahiya was defiled, probably by Hamas members, in August 2007. You can watch video footage of his death, taken from Hamas TV, here: http://video.news.sky.com/skynews/video/?&videoSourceID=1271513.
Lápiz International Art Magazine
November 2006 Edition Nº 227
Article: Richard Mosse
By: Piedad Soláns
Translation: Laura F. Farhall
In Minima Moralia Theodor W. Adorno said: "The contradiction between what is made and what exists is the vital element of art and encompasses the law of its development; however, it is also its misery." Art cannot elude its "reason," and the more the artistic object approaches mass production, the more this issue arises. "Yet works of art," says Adorno, "try to silence it."
The beauty of Richard Mosse's photographs is enclosed in the core of their contradiction: they show horror, ruin, war. Yet what emerges from the camera after a technical and selective process is not what is real, but an attractive product, that is commercially and industrially perfect and arouses in the viewers the (morally masked) emotion of beauty. Romanticism was aware of this and contemporary art did not forget about it; Mario Perniola called it the "idiocy and splendour of modern art." However, Mosse does not seem to hide it, noting the failed impotence of representation when searching for symmetry with reality, similitude with the object. Like a reporter, journalist or member of an NGO, he tries to portray suffering, war conflicts, disasters caused by injustice, in a journey through cities destroyed by the war, in Bosnia, Ramallah, Beirut or Kosovo, or devastated by catastrophes, in Iran or Pakistan.
The result is images that fascinate and amaze the viewers with their mystery and beauty: an aesthetic product.
Mosse's first solo exhibition in Spain also includes two videos, Yani Intifada (2005) and Jew on a Ball (2006), which are structured as television interviews with youths from Palestine and Israel and, as a result, come up against the impossibility -that appears in the action of the man that constantly falls off the ball- of media language to stimulate the energy of affection, the difficulty of transmission and communication in a world dominated by images, although it is, in reality, subjected to the basic instances of love and death.
6th of November 2006
Article: 'En versión original: Fotografías y vídeos recogen testimonios alternativos al oficial'
By: ASUN CLAR / CARLOS JOVER
En versión original: Fotografías y vídeos recogen testimonios alternativos al oficial RICHARD MOSSE
ASUN CLAR / CARLOS JOVER
PALMA.- No sólo son las imágenes que Richard Mosse (Kilkenny, Irlanda, 1980) va seleccionando inquisitivamente en los viajes que realiza a enclaves especialmente seleccionados, sino también el testimonio que él mismo recoge de los protagonistas de estos lugares, los que componen de un mundo conjunto toda una obra con la que logra enfocar otras visiones sobre los acontecimientos que narra. Esta narración que está implícita en las fotografías mudas y en las imágenes de los vídeos es como una voz en off que rasga la pantalla en la que se está proyectando una película excesivamente mediatizada por la prensa, a la que asistimos como espectadores pasivos.
Son los escenarios heridos por las guerras, por los terremotos o por los enfrentamientos sociales y políticos, los que dejan marcado el rostro no sólo de los protagonistas, sino también del paisaje urbano, desmoronado tras ser sacudido por la violencia. No llega a ser una poética de la ruina, aunque el resultado estético de sus imágenes pueda mostrar aspectos plásticos atractivos, ya que los acontecimientos que las han provocado remiten a tragedias ya conocidas (aunque sea de pasada) a través de los medios de comunicación.
El monopolio de la información recibida, sobre todo de hechos muy distantes, impide que se contrasten. Los afectados no tienen voz y las imágenes son sólo parciales. El artista, al servicio sólo de sus objetivos, actúa dando otras voces y otras miradas distintas a las ya conocidas, tratando así de completar una realidad que es siempre múltiple.
El arte como denuncia frente a la manipulación de los medios al servicio del poder es uno de los temas recurrentes en el arte contemporáneo; no sólo se utilizan reveladoras imágenes manipuladas, sino que también se actúa como cronista. El fotoperiodismo elevó este registro a categoría artística, y es esta actitud la que ahora retoma, consciente desde el principio, Richard Mosse.
Este tipo de propuestas actualizan la labor del artista como testigo incómodo de la realidad. Los instrumentos han cambiado y ya no son los pinceles los que proponen retratos sarcásticos de la realeza o de las costumbres de sus convecinos, sino la fotografía y el vídeo los que dirigen la mirada crítica al entorno. Si antes se ironizaba sobre la sociedad a la que pertenecía el artista, en la que él mismo estaba inmerso, la reducción del mundo a aldea global permite ahora que dirija su mirada hacia ámbitos que aunque le quedan muy lejos, no le son en absoluto ajenos. Son las mismas localizaciones que merecen atención en las noticias, pero las versiones no son las mismas.
De este modo se convierte en reportero y acude él mismo a lugares en conflicto. Este activismo cercano al periodista gráfico le valió inicialmente la reprobación de los profesores de la prestigiosa Goldsmiths University, (en la que también se formó el controvertido colectivo de los Young British Artists), pero la selección en 2005 por Bloomberg New Contemporaries como uno de los mejores artistas emergentes, ha reconsiderado y respaldado esta mirada crítica y plural.
Diari de Balears: L'ESPIRA
4th of November 2006 Article: 'Richard Mosse, imatges de la impotència' By: Cristina Ros
No ens ha d'estranyar que la galeria La Caja Blanca demostri un interès per mostrar l'obra de Richard Mosse (Kilkenny, Irlanda, 1980). Les fotografíes i vídeos que s'hi exhibeixen no poden deixar ningú indiferent, tenen una notable qualitat i arriben plens de contingut i d'intencionalitat, però, a més, els germans Eva i Amir Shakouri Torreadrado, directors d'aquest espai del carrer Verí, de Palma, i alhora comissaris de l'exposició del joveníssim artista irlandès, són d'origen iranià, i per forçahan d'haver sentit de prop els grans conflictes i crisis que, dia sí i dia també, sacsegen l'Orient Mitjà, que són els que predominen a les imatges d'aquesta exposició.
Amb la perspicàcia i el sentit de la ubiqüitat d'un reporter, i amb la mirada transcendent de l'artista, Richard Mosse no només se situa davant els escenaris de grans drames humanitaris (Iran, Bòsnia, Sèrbia, Líban i fins i tot Dubai) sinó que hi penetra per retornar-nos unes imatges metafóriques i poètiques alhora, en les quals sobretot hi són presents la denúncia i les ironies del destí. Especialment significativa en aquest sentit és la fotografía que va realitzar el juny del 2002 a la seu del diari bosnià Oslobodenje, una capçalera la traducció de la qual és Llibertad. L'edifici del diari dit Llibertat apareix, paradoxalment, destruït per un bombardeig i, per rematar la paradoxa, només es manté dreta la seva torre, un símbol clarament fál·lic. Igualment metafórica és la fotografía de la ciutat iraniana de Bam, patrimoni de la humanitat amb més de 2.000 anys d'història, del tot arrasada per un terratrèmol que la va triar com a centre en el mes de desembre de 2003.
Una església ortodoxa de Kosovo, també bombardejada, es mostra en una vista des de l'exterior i una altra des de l'interior para crear una metàfora de la violació dels drets humans.
Finalment, una sèrie de fotografies de Dubai deixen al descobert l'enlluernament de la seva riquesa, mentre els operaris que la construeixen viuen en unes condicions infrahumanes i d'absoluta falta de llibertad. En tot cas, a més de la significació de cadascuna d'aquestes fotografíes, s'ha de destacar la seva qualitat, tant en la imatge com en la reproducció i el muntatge sobre alumini o sobre vidre.
No menys interessants resulten els dos vídeos que Richard Mosse presenta a La Caja Blanca. Fets amb menys cura per l'estètica i amb més intenció de reportatge, Ya'ni Intifada recull un seguit d'entrevistes a joves de la universitat Bir Zeit de Ramallah (la zona ocupada), als quals se'ls demana el significat de la paraula Intifada, i cadascun en dóna una resposta diferent i gairebé sempre del tot deslligada amb la significació de conflicte que té per als occidentals. D'altra banda, Jew on a Ball (Jueu damunt una pilota) fa referència a la recent guerra del Líban: mentre una sèrie de dones parlen del significat de la paraula amor, un seguit d'homes jueus, nus, tracten de mantenir un equilibri, impossible, damunt una esfera.
Amb tot, metàfores de la impossibilitat de la comunicació i de la impotència de l'artista per transmetre el sofriment humà, en les obres d'un Richard Mosse que no deixa lloc per a la indiferència.
October 2006, 11th Edition Article: 'Appetite for Destruction: The best of new talented' By: Ossian Ward Interview with Richard Mosse.
Feast your eyes on bombed out monuments to war and decaying legacies of natural disasters.
"It all began in the blistering Balkan sunshine at age 19," says artist and photographer Richard Mosse. "A friend and I decided to take a detour up to Zagreb through Bosnia rather than retrace our steps up the coast. We discovered the warmth, gregariousness and hilarity of the Bosnian people, living in a battle-scarred landscape that was very exciting as well as sad to travel through." This double take, this simultaneous attraction and repulsion that Mosse encounters on his numerous trips to war-torn nations also informs his haunting pictures.
His large-format landscapes of a bullet-punctured cinema in Beirut or the half-destroyed headquarters of a Bosnian national newspaper pull and push our gaze in equal measures, drawing us in with their glorious detail and sumptuous colour, yet horrifying our sensibilities with the human implications of such wanton destruction of architecture and infrastructure. Earthquake damage to mosques in Pakistan and ancient cities in Iran, or the image of a Serbian church reduced to rubble in Kosovo, also remind us that while religion may not be able to solve the ills of the earth, it has provided us with some of our greatest buildings and monuments and that they all deserve saving, regardless of the faith they serve.
Mosse has also produced surprising portraits, such as those of Lebanese citizens going about their everyday business in Drive Beirut, 2004, or of inhabitants of Ramallah wearing the traditional Palestinian headscarf as a way of keeping sand out of their faces and not to denote allegiance to any terrorist cause, in Dust, 2005. This is a double take of a different, order one that shakes our preconceived world view and replicates it in a new, perhaps more compassionate or lighter reading of different cultures. "What attracts me most, and keeps me coming back for more, is an open-ended understanding of life that I see in people who have been through terrible suffering."
Unlike a documentary photographer or a photojournalist, Mosse works slowly and methodically, lugging around an enormous studio camera and tripod, rather than shooting thousands of images on digital ("Cyan is definitely not my favourite colour", he quips). "There is a lot of research, a lot of waiting and a lot of feeling rather useless", he says of the build-up to a trip or to a new series of pictures, "but then the most dynamic aspect of my work comes from intuition and the blind faith in following my instincts and sticking to my guns".
Mosse's peripatetic life has again led him to leave behind his hometown, his friends and the delights of the London underground for the even brighter lights and bigger city of New York. Having landed one of only eight places on the two-year MFA in photography at Yale School of Art, which boasts big name tutors such as Phillip-Lorca DiCorcia, Paul Graham and Gregory Crewdson, Mosse has to turn his lens towards America for the first time. "It seems difficult to me at this stage, like I am a fish out of water, but there's so much to think about in this vast, peculiar country of catastrophic politics and fear."
31st of October 2006 Article: 'Richard Mosse' By: Cristina Ros
El interés de las obras de Richard Mosse (Kilkenny, Irlanda 1980) transciende en mucho la imagen que se reproduce en ellas. Desde hace semanas y hasta finales de noviembre, una selección de impactantes fotografías y dos vídeos ocupan el espacio semisubterráneo de la galería La Caja Blanca, en la calle Verí de Palma. Desde los escenarios de los grandes conflictos y catástrofes humanitarias, el jovencísimo Richard Mosse no se queda en la visión de un reportero.
Sus fotos y vídeos están llenos de metáforas y de contenido, a sabiendas de la imposibilidad de transmitir, en toda su crudeza, la realidad del sufrimiento humano a través de los medios de comunicación. Para ello, sus fotografías ofrecen muchas y diferentes lecturas, demuestran una notable preocupación estética, pero sobre todo denotan la voluntad de brindar una mirada muy personal sobre los acontecimientos y, a través de la contemplación de unos paisajes azotados por la tragedia, sin apenas rastro del ser humano, provocar una reacción del espectador. La ciudad de Bam, en Irán, asolada por un terremoto a finales de 2003, la destruida sede del diario bosnio <<Oslobodenje>> (que significa <<libertad>>, qué paradoja), una iglesia ortodoxa serbia en Kosovo igualmente bombardeada, Dubai como imagen de grandes contrastes entre la exuberante riqueza y las inhumanas condiciones en que viven quienes contribuyen a construirla, son los lugares en los que ha fijado Mosse el objetivo. No menos interesantes son los dos vídeos que se muestran, especialmente <<Jew on a Ball>>, en el que el artista trata de demostrar que el equilibrio sobre la esfera es imposible. La exposición, muy recomendable.
29th of September 2006
Article: 'Richard Mosse at Spain's La Caja Blanca'
News & Features
PALMA DE MALLORCA, Spain--La Caja Blanca is presenting a solo exhibition by Irish photographer and video artist Richard Mosse through Nov.25.
In a time when war-torn cities and landscapes devastated by nature fill the newspapers and television programs we consume, this young artist questions the validity of the images distributed by the media industry as a means of communicating the reality of human suffering.
Mosse's photographs show devastated landscapes and schoolrooms crumbling onto the classroom desks. What strikes the viewer is not the human suffering that took place, but an overwhelming sense of stillness, serenity and stunning beauty.
The videos go even further, with Yani Intifada (2005) and Jew on a Ball (2006) depicting interviews with the inhabitants of these locations.
Mosse's photographs and video pieces have been taken in locations such as Bosnia, Ramallah, Beirut, Kosovo, Iran and Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Province.
20th of September 2006 Article: 'Richard Mosse en La caja Blanca-Mallorca' By: Iberarte Editors
¿Puede el arte contemporáneo ejercer de contrapeso frente a la información sesgada que nos ofrecen los medios de comunicación?
La Caja Blanca es un espacio dedicado a la promoción de artistas contemporáneos emergentes de distintas culturas y nacionalidades, en Mallorca y a nivel internacional.
Este primer año (2006), nuestra programación constará de cinco exposiciones individuales que darán a conocer una selección de jóvenes artistas excepcionales que viven a caballo entre distintas culturas. La primera exposición estará a cargo de Richard Mosse [1980, County Kilkenny, República de Irlanda] El evento coincidirá con la Nit de l'Art, la celebración que marca el inicio oficial de la temporada de arte en Palma de Mallorca.
En el 2005, fue seleccionado por Bloomberg New Contemporaries, un certamen donde se seleccionan cada año a los artistas más talentosos con menos de 30 años a nivel internacional. Richard Mosse es un artista que trabaja fundamentalmente con la fotografía y el vídeo.
Ha hecho una tesis sobre fotografía documental en Yugoslavia para el London Consortium (Tate, ICA, Architectural Association, Birkbeck). Postgraduado en Bellas Artes de la Universidad de Londres (Goldsmith's University of London).
En 2005 fue seleccionado por Bloomberg New Contemporaries, un certamen donde se selecciona cada año a los artistas emergentes más talentosos con menos de 30 años a nivel internacional. Actualmente estudia en Yale School of Art llevando a cabo uno de los Master más prestigiosos en fotografía de EE.UU..
Su último vídeo titulado "Ya'ni Intifada" ganó el premio "Perspectiva" como mejor obra (Ormeau Baths Gallery).
COMISARIOS: Amir y Eva Shakouri Torreadrado
INAUGURA: Jueves 21 de septiembre 2006 a partir de 19:00h a 22:30
Dirección: La Caja Blanca, Calle Verí 9, Palma de Mallorca 07001. España
Para reservar entrevistas, obtener imágenes o más información, no duden en ponerse en contacto con los directores.
Art Review, October 2005
Article: Emerging Photographers, A firm hold on the future
by Lupe Nunez-Fernandez
A search for heritage and understanding has been the pretext for Richard Mosse's forays into war-torn landscapes. The result is a growing collection of architectural wounds from conflict-ravaged sites, which displays the unabashed influence of the Becher's typological aesthetic, but also an independent, powerful clarity. Mosse's stunningly beautiful images of awful catastrophes and crumbling architecture are seductive and alluring as art-objects, and troubling at the same time, at the crossroads between aesthetic and ethical responsibility. The young Irish photographer, a founding member of the innovative Photodebut collective, will be showing Ya'ni Intifada, his recent video work from the Palestinian territories, at Ormeau Baths Gallery in Belfast, until 15 October. He is this year's joint winner of the gallery's open submission Perspective prize, and his 'Untitled' series, travelling as part of Bloomberg new Contemporaries 2005, is at LOT in Bristol (until 16 October) and at the Barbican in London (16 Nov-8Jan 2006). richardmosse.com, photodebut.org, newcontemporaries.org.uk
SeeSaw Magazine, Winter 2004
The Balkans: Architecture Wounded
Bosnia and Kosovo, 2002-2004
by Richard Mosse
In 2001, I took a cheap flight to Croatia with a friend. Raddled with sun and crusty with sea air from visiting the islands, we decided to take a quick detour back to Zagreb through Bosnia, rather than retrace our steps up the golden coast of the Adriatic.
I cannot explain the difficult feelings on arriving into Sarajevo in the early morning. I could still remember the names of the towns on the news during the Balkan wars in my teenage years, but never understood the conflict. And here it all was, written out for us in sublime architecture, and in the grief and living of a people.
That year, I spent only five days in Bosnia, and most of that on a sweltering bus. But I have returned as often as I am allowed, and have fallen in love with the people and their heritage. And I refer not only to Bosnians (though they are the most gregarious), but also to the Albanians, Serbs, Croats, Macedonians and Gypsies, wherever they find themselves in the parts of these lands.
RICHARD MOSSE is from County Kilkenny, Ireland, and lives in London. After receiving a BA in English Literature from King's College, he moved to Berlin, using it as a base to explore the continent with a camera. In 2002, Mosse was highly commended for his Bosnian photographs by the Observer Hodge Award. He continued to pursue the project, leading to a Masters degree at the London Consortium in 2003. He is currently pursuing a postgraduate degree in Fine Art at Goldsmiths, and most recently, became a member of the photographic collective, Photodebut.