Richard Mosse: Infra – Reviewed

Emma Sumner finds darkness and light in a pair of photographic exhibitions depicting the horrors of war… 

Richard Mosse’s work was first introduced to me last year; on hearing that he was to be exhibited at the Open Eye Gallery I was eager to go and experience it first hand. On show is a new body of work made in the Democratic Republic of Congo entitled Infra. Using the recently discontinued Kodak Aerochrome film, his photographs literally put a new light on the turbulent situation in Congo. Designed by the US military to detect camouflage and reveal part of the spectrum of light the human eye cannot see, the film converts infrared light into hues of lavender crimson and hot pink. Mosse’s first solo UK show, Infra runs alongside the archive exhibition by Simon Norfolk, For Most of it I Have No Words.

On the wall text before you enter the exhibitionis a cryptic quote from Mosse, that he is “concerned less with the conscience than with the consciousness”. Gallery 1 contains a selection of large prints depicting the landscapes of Eastern Congo. Bursting with those hues of crimson and pink; though re-contextualising, they render us, the viewer, fully conscious of the situation Mosse is depicting. These evocative images demand your full and prolonged fixation to their delicate balance between the real and the surreal. The hues give these landscape a blood soaked appearance, a memorial to the lives lost within those unimaginably fraught battles.

Gallery 2 contains a selection of smaller-scale works which in contrast to the landscapes in Gallery 1, portray soldiers, residents and abandoned dwellings. These images, with their arranged compositions, provide more of a suggestion to what Mosse must have encountered during his time in Congo. We may never fully understand what the people pictured have experienced during the turbulence, but Mosse has interpreted his experience with such a raw and relatable approach as to leave an indelible mark on the viewer.

“Mosse gets right to the heart of each conflict”

Through this series of images, Mosse demonstrates his strengths and his intentions to challenging the authority of documentary photography and the responsibility it brings.

Also shown are three of Mosse’s films. While not as evocative as his bold stils, they serve to document very different situations in Iraq and Gaza. Theatre of War 2009, a film shot from one of Saddam Hussein’s hilltop palaces is reminiscent of the photographic work with its virtually static shots focusing on a group of soldiers ‘hanging about’ on the ruins. Every conflict effects different people in different ways, these videos make apparent how Mosse gets right to the heart of each conflict to find a suitable way to best present his experiences to the viewer.

The smaller upstairs gallery contains the archive exhibition of landscape photographer Simon Norfolk whose black and white images sit in stark contrast to the day-glo of Mosse’s. Carefully selected investigative snippets of twentieth century genocidal events, Norfolk describes his images as ‘forensic traces of a crime scene’. They are reminders of events past and why we should not forget the impact of these historical events on those involved and the land in which they took place. Rather than getting right to the heart of the conflict, they look at what has been left behind and the impact of the devastation. It seems an impossible task to realistically depict what has happened in a conflict of such indescribable horror, but both photographers do this in different and particularly effective ways.

The choice to exhibit Norfolk’s evocative archive photographs in conjunction with the main exhibition gives a now and then experience, acting as a reminder of Open Eye’s importance as both a venue within the city and the only gallery in the North West dedicated to photography. These two carefully selected exhibitions show the curators passion to deliver an exhibition programme that champions photography as an art form and explores the possibilities of the media.

Emma Sumner

Exhibition continues at the Open Eye Gallery until 10 June 2012
Open 10.30am until 5.30pm Tuesday to Sunday, image courtesy Richard Mosse

Posted on 06/04/2012 by thedoublenegative