'Beauty is the main line to make people feel something.' - Richard Mosse
It's easy to be fooled by the alluring colours of the striking photo chosen for the advertising poster of this superb exhibition at the MAST Foundation, but anyone who may have been misled by that imagery soon realises what the show is really about. Mosse is interested in the themes of war, displacement and migration, and with his camera he captures beauty and tragedy where there's conflict and destruction.
For his Infra series shot in the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo Mosses used Kodak Aerochrome, a discontinued reconnaissance infrared film developed for military use that registers chlorophyll in live vegetation. As a result, green turns to dramatic hues of pink and red, making the lush Congolese rainforest looks surreal, almost dreamy and psychedelic. The obvious association is with blood, lest anyone forgets that since 1998 over 5m people have died in this conflict the media never talks about.
In the Heat Map series, Mosse once again repurposes military technology to explore the plight of the refugees, bringing us what we cannot see. He used military-grade infrared technology that records contours in heat to capture camps, migrants of all ages in boats and as they go about their lives every day. This technology, normally used to identify and track human targets, renders skin and flesh oddly luminescent and washy, erasing all colour and expression. Everyone looks the same, everyone looks like they are no one. They are the invisibles.
This is an important exhibition that will stay with you for a long time. Mosse's work will push you away and it will draw you in. It will get you thinking about the stuff we don't want to see, the stuff we'd often rather not know about. Because it's ugly, because it's unsettling and uncomfortable. But mostly because it makes us look at the unspeakable suffering inflicted by fellow humans on millions of other fellow humans when we desperately want to look the other way. And now that we are hopefully edging closer the end of such a tragic time, with our hearts, minds and souls running on fumes, this is precisely why we need to see it.
Platon, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, 2012
Madonna and Child, North Kivu, Eastern Congo, 2012
Of Lilies and Remains, 2012
Remain in Light, 2015
Incoming (still), 2014–17
Incoming (video), 2017
All photos © Richard Mosse courtesy Jack Shainman Gallery