Current Feature: Richard Mosse
Through the lens of Richard Mosse's weaponized camera, the subjects are visible only as figures of glowing white light. The serial heat readings capture radiant beings amidst a dark textured landscape, emulating a negative print instead of a positive one. The finished product is shot with the latest military technology, a germanium lens on a military thermal radiation camera that records the heat of bodies from miles away. This lens is traditionally used by the military as a system for targeting and surveillance. The camera needs a laptop interface in order to operate from a long distance. Mosse was able to hook the camera up to a robotic motion-control tripod and operate it with an Xbox controller.
Mosse takes an alternative approach to using technology intended for spying on foreign territories and navigating for a bomb strike by photographing human subjects in an observatory fashion. He mastered the complex technology by combining thousands of scanned frames captured by a telephoto lens to create each of the panoramic images. The outcome of the Mosse’s technique reminds us of some classical painters like Pieter Bruegel and Hieronymus Bosch, who portrayed expansive scenes upon flat canvases. The method of merging the frames and the thermal reading technology erases the fine details of the exiled individuals and creates a faint idea of what the individuals look like in reality. The lack of details gives us the embodiment of life in a refugee camp in a dissociative manner. These images have glaring similarities to the historical photos from American internment and Nazi concentration camps- the rudimentary, overcrowded living quarters and the people trying to maintain normality while living in such restricted conditions. Mosse’s artistic choice to use thermal readings with inverted light and shadows, reminds us of the black and white photos surviving from the past camps. Mosse knew the importance of understanding the camps and the people living within them, which led him to spending ample time inside the camp boundaries. Although he had help from the refugees to arrange his shots, the photos remain emotionally detached. People photograph as haunting white figures, resembling aliens moving through an other-worldly landscape filtered at 140fps, looking like a video game.
This “Heat Maps” (2016-17) series presents us with an aspect of war that we have been largely desensitized to, one that we have seen on the news, in advertisements, and on social media for years. The reoccurring images of refugees in the media have desensitized the public to the realities of people from war-torn countries. We find ourselves blind to these horrors, yet they continue to be just as inhumane and relevant.
Mosse's camera captures the daily lives of those directly affected by war, refugees hanging laundry, conversing with each other and waiting in long lines to use the camp’s facilities. The photos portray the displacement resulting from unethical decisions made by others; the ethics of sadism, and the abstract idea of borders. Despite the image evidence of displaced persons conducting their civilian lives in the camps, their inverted thermal appearance removes individual identifiers. The uncanny similarity between an enemy in the military’s thermal readings and the refugees in Mosse’s photos reveals the dehumanizing nature of the military lens from a long distance. This comparison of the two uses for the military lens contributes to the feeling of the inherent distance within the series.
Richard Mosse furthers his technique while maintaining the same aura of illuminating the tragic beauty of war that he had in his previous series “Infra” (2013), by using infrared film to photograph Congolese fighters. The soldiers of the Congo contrast the lurid landscape in the images where the greenery pulsates hot pink. The photos are breathtaking, eerie and unearthly, whether it be the teenager armed with a machine gun or the pink grass he is standing in. “Heat Maps” (2016-17) contains aspects of a world we are familiar with, it is not skewed but inverted. It seems Mosse intends to make the horrors of war more palatable using this new technology to alter reality. The refugee subjects of Mosse’s photos are shown as ghostly images amongst textured grayscale backgrounds. The thermal readings capture the mundane nature of being confined to a refugee camp and the task of creating a new normalcy. His series challenges the dynamic between being an audience to human interactions and diminishing refugees into statistics. When looking at Mosse’s images, we become anonymous witnesses of human lives as they are reduced to shadows of heat.