Richard Mosse’s fascinating Congo project’s latest incarnation at the Venice Biennale looks fascinating. Mosse had traveled all over eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, infiltrated armed rebel groups, and documented devastated, terrorized communities. Since 1998, 5.4 million people died from war-related incidents. No one cared.
Mosse shot all this with infrared-detecting aerochrome film originally developed for military camouflage detection purposes. In the hands of this documentary photographer, it turns all natural greens into lurid hot pink. It becomes a metaphor for both seeing the unseen and the ignored, but also for his outsider perspective. He’s was a foreign white guy lugging a silly-looking camera through the jungle.
I spoke with Mosse years ago about his choice of medium. “Realism described in infrared becomes shrouded by the exotic, shifting the gears of Orientalism,” he explained. The aesthetically exaggerated separation became the guiding link, the heart and the concept of the project. “Every step I took I would be reminded of the limits of my own articulation, of my own inadequate capacity for representation. I wished for this to happen in a place of hard realities whose narratives urgently need telling but cannot be easily described. Congo is just such a place. Its war seems essentially intangible. It is a protracted, complex, and convoluted conflict, fought by rebels with constantly switching allegiance. These narratives, though brutal and tragic, are not tales that are easily told.”
As promised, he returned to the Congo and completed the video portion of the project. From the preview/interview video above, The Enclave (2013) further accentuates his intent and brings forth a reality abroad that is a crime to ignore in way that cannot be — beautiful and brutal.
Now at the Venice Biennale. More this summer.