Richard Mosse is a man of borders: borders between photojournalism and contemporary art, where every photographic process is subject to experiment. The exhibition “Richard Mosse: Displaced”, at the MAST Foundation in Bologna, Italy, showcases some 80 large-format photographs by the Irish photographer. It is the first major retrospective of the photojournalist who has not stopped traveling to conflict zones, starting with Bosnia, Kosovo, the Gaza Strip…
Andy Warhol-version of war
A retrospective of Richard Mosse would not be complete without his emblematic series, Infra. It is an unreal, almost hallucinatory immersion in the violent reality of the civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo between 2010 and 2015. Depicted in the colors of the negatives, the lush vegetation goes from green to bright pink. Kalashnikovs look like playthings in the hands of soldiers adrift in surreal landscapes. This unique work was made possible thanks to the ingenious and daring use of Kodak Aerochrome III Infrared 1443, an infrared film developed for military purposes as a formidable tool of recognition and detection.
Richard Mosse exquisitely subverts this tool: a skull placed among flowers becomes a memento mori, Andy Warhol style. And yet it also tells the tragic story of a victim of the massacre perpetrated by the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) in the village of Busurungi in the DRC in 2009. According to a UN report, at least 96 civilians were murdered: shot, stabbed, or cut down with machetes. Without detracting from the gruesome reality, Richard Mosse gives a new face to war photography. A revolution.
Thermal camera and military drones
We can go so far as to say that Richard Mosse is the Stanley Kubrick of photography. This is a risky comparison. But the photographer is possessed by the same quest for innovation as was the director of 2001, A Space Odyssey. Each new reportage includes a fresh discovery, a new connection between photography and a technological process. Just as Kubrick used NASA lenses to capture the intimacy of candlelight in Barry Lyndon, Richard Mosse uses military thermal-imaging cameras to create the “Heat Maps” series and the video, Incoming, on European migration routes. The long-range lens makes it possible to detect heat sources several kilometers away. On the negatives, the silhouettes are only shadows, impersonal, impossible to identify. They symbolize worldwide indifference to human tragedy. Combining several hundred photographs to create long panels with impressive details, the Irish photojournalist has created impressive panoramas of refugee camps. The result is a black-and-white image akin to engraving — raw and aggressive.
His last two works take us to the Amazonian forest. In his “Tristes Tropiques” series, titled after the ethnologist Claude Lévi-Strauss’s book, Richard Mosse composes stunning aerial images made using drones and military cameras. They are a testimony of the intensive deforestation carried out in the Amazonian region. The photos turn into veritable paintings, sometimes evocative of Pollock. This is why Mosse is as much a photojournalist as a contemporary artist in his approach. With an exhibition of these large-format pictures, the MAST Foundation offers a fascinating, must-see retrospective. If your vacation takes you to Bologna, it would be a shame to miss it.
By Michaël Naulin
Michaël Naulin is a journalist. Having worked in regional and national newspapers, he is above all passionate about photography and more particularly reporting.
“Richard Mosse: Displaced”. Until September 9, Fondation Mast, Bologna, Italy.