Richard Mosse: The Impossible Image

From Spectatorship, Race, and Citizenship

From the failures of the promises of equality and belonging that citizenship has offered, to the failures of visual representation itself: the three videos that conclude this program feature artists and filmmakers in conversations that address the limits of visualizing civil rights violations and that raise serious questions about how—or whether—the impact of these representations on the spectator can be effectively measured. Irish photographer and filmmaker Richard Mosse here discusses his six-channel film installation The Enclave (2013), which uses Aerochrome—an infrared film produced by Kodak and initially used for surveillance purposes during the Cold War—to picture the ongoing state of war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. One of the effects of Aerochrome is to transform the light reflected back by the chlorophyll in healthy plants into a vibrant pink, a transposition of color that renders the scenes Mosse captures in otherworldly hues. As Mosse discusses here between excerpts from the film, his choice to use this discontinued film was inspired by the seeming impossibility of representing the conflict in the Congo, which has claimed more than 5.4 million lives and has resulted in hundreds of thousands of displaced peoples, child soldiers, and innumerable sexual assaults: acts of violence driven by ongoing bids by multiple paramilitary groups to control resource extraction in the region (the Congo holds some of the world’s richest deposits of the rare-earth minerals used in the design of smartphones and tablets). In other words, the total state of war in the Congo that has unfolded there over the last two decades is undeniably a result of the long-term effects of colonialism, and now capitalist imperialism, in the region.

Despite, or perhaps because of, the overwhelming violence and dispossession being wrought in the region, Mosse feels the conflict in Congo is underrepresented in mainstream journalism and press. His film, and related photographic portraits, aim to personalize the conflict by focusing on close-ups of his subjects, whose ambivalence about the camera’s presence, as well as the performative gestures of the soldiers, produce what he describes as “a play between the deeply vulnerable and the deeply sinister” in the final portraits. Though the film has been both critically lauded and derided for its use of such haunting imagery (aided by cinematographer Trevor Tweeten) and sound (through an entrancing soundscape created by Ben Frost), Mosse is unequivocal about the relationship between ethics and aesthetics in his work: “Of primal importance to me is beauty,” he concludes. “Beauty is one of the mainlines to make people feel something. It’s the sharpest tool in the box.”

September 9, 2017


Curated by

Gabrielle Moser