Seeing Pink: War Through a New Lens. Richard Mosse's Infrared Photography in the Democratic Republic of Congo

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Seeing Pink: War Through a New Lens. Richard Mosse's Infrared Photography in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Type: Master thesis
Title: Seeing Pink: War Through a New Lens. Richard Mosse's Infrared Photography in the Democratic Republic of Congo
Author: Boer, Saskia P. M.
Issue Date: 2014-08-31
Keywords: photography infrared theory war congo conflict richard mosse
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Abstract: The topic of this thesis is Richard Mosse’s colour infrared photography. He documents the ongoing conflict in the DR Congo, but in a way that confuses the spectator: his pictures are beautiful and pink. The main question is what the images in the projects Infra and The Enclave can address and what they can mean, and in more concrete terms how they relate to notions of truth and reality as used in photography at large and documentary, journalistic and art photography in specific, and what role the infrared film emulsion has in this relation. The first chapter explains that Mosse’s images turn pink because of using colour infrared, a film once designed for the US Air Forces to make the invisible enemy visible. Mosse uses it as a metaphor for making the invisible visible; the conflict in Congo is neglected, hard to grasp and invisible. Colour infrared also has a history of anti-military sentiments, because it was later appropriated by hippie musicians for album artwork. Mosse counters the seriousness and literalness of regular journalistic and documentary photography by using cross processed infrared film, which connotes kitsch and experiment. Mosse’s photography is a turn away from photojournalism as decisive moment and a dissociation from superficial videojournalism, technically by returning to an analogue, slow medium and conceptually by focusing on the aftermath rather than the event. The second chapter shows how Mosse’s images relate to the realism and truth claims of documentary and journalism, on the basis of indexicality and iconicity. Mosse counters the conventions of realism and supposed indexicality by taking the documentary subject out of its context of ‘truth’, both literally by taking it from the press into the museum, and figuratively by employing a totally different, and overt style. His open, ambiguous images are overtly staged, larded with a seemingly constructed beautiful pinkness, and show a distanced, still world, with neutral looking, hard to typify subjects. Mosse forwards how subtly deceitful the ‘truth claim’ of photography is, and contrasts it by openly showing beautiful pink lies. No image, whether indexical and seemingly objective or not, cannot convey anything ‘truthful’ about the abstract nature of war and the complexity of human experience. He draws attention to the iconic elements openly, which may render his images more ‘truthful’. The pinkness of the photos looks iconic, but is inherently indexical. It appears that it is hard to define ‘truth’ on the basis of indexicality, because it is apparently hard to make a clear distinction between indexical and iconic elements. Chapter 3 discusses truth from a meta-perspective. As an answer to the crisis of representation in war photography Mosse opts for more conceptual modes of representation. He deconstructs the possibility to objectively and immediately represent reality by drawing attention to the constructedness of the photographic surface: he makes us aware of the fallacy of photographic representation. The ambiguous and indeterminate meaning of the photographs leaves room for the viewer’s imagination and complicates the possibility to understand. This way, he does justice to the idea of truth, while actually deconstructing it. Mosse’s images carry a risk of losing touch with reality. Their deconstruction and estrangement may destroy any link to the real world ‘out there’ in Congo. The reversal between surface and horrible subject may be amplified by the extreme beauty of the surface, but it may also cause the viewer trouble to see or imagine past it. The viewer’s sense of surprise and puzzledness when seeing Infra and The Enclave derives exactly from the function of a photograph as an ‘image of reality’. Mosse’s images amaze because they give such a new, beautiful, different image of war.
Supervisor: Westgeest, Helen
Faculty: Faculty of Humanities
Department: Media Studies (Master)
Specialisation: Film and Photographic Studies
ECTS Credits: 20

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