The visual lexicon of the war photographer has remained little changed since its inception during the American Civil War of the 1860s. Stark, traditionally in black and white, and normally bleak hyper-masculine representations of widespread brutality, the photographic servers on news desks around the world churn out photographic war clichés that desensitise the viewer. Richard Mosse, however, wants to show that in the interstices of the conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo—a war that has claimed more than five million lives since the ’90s—lies strangeness and beauty. Using discontinued colour infrared film originally designed for military camouflage detection, a process that gives his photographs a distinctive pink hue, Mosse shows how the conflict has affected the landscape, both natural and man-made. “Sometimes you have to walk for 20 minutes through no-man’s-land, down a muddy path past ambush foxholes, abandoned huts, or entire villages in a state of being reclaimed by the jungle,” Mosse explains. “Civilians here build provisionally, it seems, almost as if they anticipate having to abandon their homes in the not-so-distant future.” He was struck by the sculptural form of these modest structures. “Abject yet cannily built, they express a vernacular creativity in the face of extreme hardship and instability ... Over time I began to make a series of prosaic portraits of these architectural forms.” The Irish-born photographer collaborated with Australian composer Ben Frost, who accompanied the author on a trip to the Congo to collect field recordings, to produce a maze-like immersive video installation called the enclave, which was released in 2012. A spokeswoman for the Berlin-based Carlier Gebauer gallery, which is presenting his work at Art Basel, says, “Unlike the countless streams of war images we encounter daily, Mosse uses the conceptual pivot of visual pleasure to bring the invisible elements of a war that has claimed so many lives in the Congo into sharper focus.”
Text by Peter Shadbolt; Image courtesy of the artist and Carlier Gebauer.