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Matinee: Richard Mosse Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

25 August 2018

Saturday matinees long ago let us escape from the ordinary world to the island of the Swiss Family Robinson or the mutinous decks of the Bounty. Why not, we thought, escape the usual fare here with Saturday matinees of our favorite photography films?

So we're pleased to present the 164th in our series of Saturday matinees today: Photographers in Focus: Richard Mosse .

In this five-minute video, Irish photographer Richard Mosse talks about his innovative use of infrared photography in journalism. In fact, calling him a photographer is something of a shortcut. He's more properly described as a conceptual documentary photographer.

That's because the work he does is documenting conflict as a photographer but not in the traditional way of either black-and-white or color mimetic representations of what he has seen. Instead, he uses the infrared spectrum to tell his story, relying on military-grade hardware and special films to create the images that tell a story we would otherwise not see.

You see a hand rubbing a blanket on a rescued refugee and when that hand moves way you see an afterimage of its warm radiation remaining on the blanket.

Infrared film is sensitive to an invisible spectrum of energy (not light itself) that happens to be where most bodies radiate their heat. It turns out, as Mosse explains, that this property has significant consequences for military operations.

In World War II, the U.S. military used infrared photography to unmask camouflaged enemy troops. The camouflage was the same color and pattern of the foliage on the battlefield, effectively hiding the troops. But infrared could see the energy radiating from the human bodies that did not radiate from the trees.

Infrared film was so successful at revealing the enemy that the military persuaded Kodak to develop a color version that assigned magenta to foliage. So the company developed Aerochrome as an infrared-sensitive, false-color reversal film.

Why did Mosse use infrared films to report conflict? For the same reason the military used it. To see the people distinct from the environment. To emphasize the people, one might say.

You get a glimpse of that in the opening shot, which is black-and-white. It shows a body of water in a dark gray with a row of high-key human beings along the bottom of the frame.

The military camera he uses can image humans radiating energy from 18 miles away. It is used for surveillance and border enforcement, among other things, but he used it to capture refugees arriving by sea in 2014 when more than a million people fled to Europe.

The video images are stunning. You see a hand rubbing a blanket on a rescued refugee and when that hand moves way you see an afterimage of its warm radiation remaining on the blanket.

That's a small but telling example of how Mosse uses the technology to document what is going on that you otherwise would not see.

The use of technology that was developed for military applications to document conflict and social upheaval is subversive, certainly. But, you know, in a good way.

The longer video below (in which Mosse stands next to that imposing camera) fleshes out Mosse's story a bit more:

Mosse says he inhabits a place somewhere between fine art and documentary photography. But he isn't imagining facts, just visually capturing a dimension we may be aware of without being able to see.

And that just happens to remind us of the existence of people as fellow human beings in these dramas.

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