Photo by Finbarr O’Reilly
Yesterday, Congolese voters went to polls amid violence and confusion. For more on the elections, read Congo Siasa or Texas in Africa. The upshot of the election is as of yet unclear, but while Congo is in the news (again) I wanted to take this opportunity to write about Richard Mosse’s continued series of infrared images of DRC.
I first wrote about Mosse’s work last year with reluctant praise. I liked the images, but feared they were a bit gimmicky. However, Mosse’s newest set puts these concerns to rest — he’s committed to exploring a complicated region through a medium fraught with its own limitations.
In an interview on the photoblog Conscientious, Mosse speaks to these issues directly:
Susan Sontag pointed out that photojournalists have long avoided the ethic/aesthetic dilemma by ‘flying low artistically speaking’, using grainy black and white film to appear sober and objective while portraying human suffering. I feel that it’s equally valid to explore the camera’s full aesthetic potential. Naturalism is no greater claim to veracity than other strategies.
I was searching for a new form, or generic hybrid, that would go a step further. While making the work, I was acutely aware of the fact that infrared light is invisible, so I was literally photographing blind. The whole process seemed preposterous. I felt like the protagonist in Gogol’s Dead Souls, quantifying an absence using a meticulous scientific method while engaged in a picaresque trajectory through an impossible land…
At the end of the day, I feel that journalism’s premise is often not simply to inform, but also to affirm our world view. I take issue not with its informing role, but with this affirmation. I believe that it’s imperative to challenge our thinking, particularly in more volatile and loaded landscapes whose narratives are frequently calcified by mass media interests. My work is not intended as a criticism of journalism (which is tremendously important). Rather, it operates within the open field of contemporary art, where the emphasis is not on the answers, but on the questions – not on the facts, but on what they add up to.
While votes are added up, and news briefs and photo reportages accumulate on the internet, it’s good to have Mosse’s work as an additional viewpoint. Neither his work, nor the work of the journalists covering the elections, is as complete without the other.
For more on representations of Congo, see also: