The Dark Side of Rose-Coloured Lenses

Richard Mosse’s Visual Installation Shines a Colourful Hue over Instability in the DRC

Richard Mosse, Tutsi Town, North Kivu, Eastern Congo, 2010. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York. Photo courtesy of DHC/ART
Richard Mosse, Tutsi Town, North Kivu, Eastern Congo, 2010. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York. Photo courtesy of DHC/ART
Film installation of The Enclave. Photo courtesy of DHC/ART

Casting a pink hue over a modern-day Heart of Darkness, Irish photographer Richard Mosse documents the effects of armed conflict on everyday life in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, unveiling violence and instability that has largely been misunderstood and insufficiently covered by Western media.

“Today we’re bombarded by images all the time and have become desensitized to their contents,” said DHC/ART curator Cheryl Sim. “Mosse’s transformation of verdant landscapes into shocking pink monochromes is going to shake up what you know of images of Africa.”

The DHC/ART gallery is currently exhibiting Mosse’s visual art installation The Enclave and photographs from his series Infra. Both have garnered Mosse a considerable amount attention from critics, and The Enclave won the prestigious Deutsche Börse Photography Prize this year.

As a photographer, Mosse isn’t easy to categorize.

“Richard Mosse [exists] somewhere in between photojournalism and conceptual photography,” said Sim. “He believes that photojournalism is cast in a conservative paradigm that has a conventional mandate to be presented in newspapers and magazines.

“But he’s not interested in that kind of framework,” Sim continued. “He distances himself from that surrounding to gain freedom, to push into questioning […] how to find new ways to chronicle and what the problems are in that process.”

Mosse strives to break the strict conventions of photojournalism by casting aside the standard black-and-white and RBG models that have long defined the documentary photographic approach. Instead, he opted to capture landscapes, people and hidden objects using Kodak Aerochrome III, a type of now-discontinued infrared film that caused dense tree cover to appear in a monochrome hot pink.

Aside from being an interesting aesthetic choice, there’s also a certain symbolic value in using Kodak Aerochrome film. Developed during the 1940s by the U.S. military, it was widely used for camouflage detection and aerial surveillance during the Vietnam War.

“It detects the chlorophyll present in healthy green plants. When the film is developed, it transforms the green into pink, making camouflage much easier to recognize,” said Sim, adding that it also became popular in the music scene during the 1960s, when it was used to create psychedelic album covers for musicians like Jimi Hendrix.

This creative choice calls into question the notion of photographic truth—the idea that photography is the most accurate means of capturing the world. As Sim notes, the film “turns the invisible into the visible.”

With the exhibition, Mosse’s goal was to shed light on everyday life in a conflict zone by capturing “the impossible photograph”—an image that could somehow encapsulate the deeply complex conflict in the DRC.

He focuses his lens on Kivu, an eastern region of the country where there has been armed combat between the military, United Nations forces and rebel groups, including Hutu Power extremists who were the main actors in the 1994 Rwandan genocide and who later crossed into the DRC.

Although the Second Congo War officially ended in 2003, hostilities are ongoing. By 2008, the political and social instability in the DRC had led to approximately 5.4 million deaths since 1998, making it the deadliest conflict worldwide since World War II.

As a video installation, The Enclave has allowed Mosse to go beyond still photography to convey a different reality. In collaboration with cinematographer Trevor Tweeten, the film was shot in 2012 on a 16 mm film. Six different screens depict a portion of the film, and it’s all accompanied by music produced by minimalist composer Ben Frost.

“The difference between still [photography] and film is that the first is a very contemplative register whereas film portrays a main line to the emotions,” said Sim.

“It transmits reality and addresses the problems of perception. This film highlights the everyday situation like seeing a moving camp or watching people move a house. All this is rather extraordinary, but it happens there more often than we think.”

Mosse’s images can provoke mixed emotions in viewers. As depictions of human suffering they’re obviously thought-provoking, but they also extract and convey a hidden beauty. Despite the fact that the photos highlight an often-overlooked armed conflict, Mosse still manages to provide a brighter perspective on Africa than Western audiences are accustomed to.

Ultimately the installation’s format helps the observer travel through the complexity of the conflict from one screen to another.

“This conflict is not a black or white situation. It’s really like travelling through a labyrinth to trace […] the whole thing out,” Sim said.

Richard Mosse exhibition // DHC/ART (465 Rue Saint-Jean) // Until Feb. 8, 2015 // Free admission

Correction: The Link originally stated that the exhibition took place 407 Saint-Pierre. In fact, it will be featured at 465 Rue Saint-Jean. The Link regrets this error.