JTF (just the facts): A total of 26 large scale color photographs, framed in grey and unmatted, and hung in the entry area, the large back divided gallery, and two smaller side rooms. All of the works are digital c-prints, made in 2010 or 2011. Each image is generally available in a small and large size; smaller sizes include 20×24, 28×35, and 40×50 (or reverse), all in editions of 5+1, and larger sizes include 48×60, 72×90, and 72×106 (or reverse), in editions of 2+1. A monograph of this body of work is being published by Aperture (here). (Installation shots at right.)
Stripped of their color, Mosse’s pictures would seem similar to images of war and rebellion that we see everyday: charismatic rebel leaders in fatigues surrounded by rag tag bunches of soldiers, the fight slipping in and out of the jungle, ravaging the countryside and then disappearing like a wisp of smoke. But the challenge is to get beyond these semi-posed units, the makeshift camps, and the military marches through the undergrowth to capture the disorienting, emotional landscape of the shifting alliances, the wins and losses, the destructive impact on the local people and the land itself, and the general inexplicable gruesomeness of it all. Like Conrad’s The Heart of Darkness, Mosse’s body of work takes the real and makes it exaggerated and surreal.
What is so obviously different and shockingly new here is Mosse’ palette. Using discontinued Kodak Aerochrome infrared film, he has transformed dense pockets of jungle greenery and wide pastoral hillsides into a topsy-turvy Dr. Seuss world, where pink and red have become the dominant colors. River valleys, steep rock slides and undulating pastures are seemingly covered with bushes of cotton candy and hills of bubblegum. Soldiers wear pink berets and stand in towering undergrowth reminiscent of bright red Christmas pointsettas. The photographs are both joltingly wrong and quite beautiful, forcing the viewer to look again and again, trying to make sense of what is being presented. And this, of course, is the point; it’s impossible to go down the rabbit hole of the Congo and have the situation seem normal or comprehensible. Even simple grazing cows look alien and out of place.
While I admire the eye-popping, memorable distinctiveness of these images, I think Mosse’s expansion of his photojournalistic boundaries is even more important. He has used unexpected color reversal as a metaphorical device, a method for providing a sense of the place that goes beyond the visual details caught on film. While his war-time compositions may look familiar, the entire aesthetic experience is unsettling and perplexing, undermining our ability to derive answers or draw conclusions. The wild palette tells us that we have entered an alternate reality of some kind, and that things are not what they seem. In the end, this inversion seems both highly appropriate and durably original, and I am confident that these images will continue to stand out for many years to come, instantly recognizable as the uncertainty of rebel warfare, stunningly turned on its head.
Richard Mosse, Infra
Through December 23rd