Richard Mosse – Infra
01 February 2014 . By Tristan Hooper
The Congo has long been in the public eye. For many years, the mainstream media has spread images of genocide, famine and human rights violations to audiences the world over. Yet, despite the extent of reportage, the situation in the Congo endures as being somewhat enigmatic.
Driven to explore some of its hidden mysteries, Irish photographer Richard Mosse took the opportunity to make a number of trips to the country. Over a three-year period he captured the Congolese and the vast landscape that they inhabit. But whilst Mosse’s pictures could certainly be described as war photographs, they are rather unlike what one usually sees in contemporary conflict photography.
Mosse elected to make use of a discontinued form of infrared film for his work in Infra. Originally designed for use in aerial surveillance by the military, this specialised film was made to render camouflage useless. Natural vegetation and foliage – normally visible to the human eye in various shades of luscious green – are instead depicted in tones of magenta, verging on the psychedelic. The overall effect is quite startling; the images are both striking and curious.
These large-scale landscape photographs depict the region in a way that one feels to be looking upon some kind of alien terrain. A facile interpretation could perhaps relate the colour to that of a landscape stained with the bloodshed resulting from years of conflict. But perhaps we should look beyond the obvious and consider the more subtle possibilities inherent in Mosse’s Infra.
His decision to use this particular film is of real interest – not only because of its unique effect, but also because of its original intended purpose: designed to make the invisible visible, to show what is normally obscured and hidden from view. In employing this military technology, Mosse is perhaps attempting to peel away some of the ambiguity surrounding the region and its troubled history – in turn helping us to view the Congo differently.
The strange colour palette coerces the viewer into pondering the natural landscape – it places emphasis on the topography and fertile nature of the country. An interesting perspective as the Congo is home to an incredible glut of precious natural resources, attributes arguably at the root of the country’s problems. Despite the vast quantities of uranium, rubber and copper present in the region – providing the possibility of establishing the Congo as one of the world’s wealthiest nations – these reserves have only contributed to the state of unbalance.
Another captivating aspect is how many of the photographs depicting people within the landscape seem to perpetuate a divide between the inhabitants and the land. Often the Congolese appear at odds with the landscape, almost as if superimposed upon it.
Infra represents a potent and pronounced departure from the norms of photography concerned with war. It has often been commented that war photographs have contributed to what is known as ‘compassion fatigue’. Pictures depicting the horrors of conflict are so readily available that people have ceased to be affected by them. We are all only too familiar with the black and white reportage spawned from the Vietnam War, and more recent colour photographs from the Gulf and Afghanistan.
Mosse’s photographs demand attention; they show us something new, something to arouse our curiosity.