Apr/May 2012

Infra

Jessica Loudis


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WHAT DOES NOT INITIALLY MEET THE EYE in Richard Mosse’s vivid photographs of cotton-candy hillsides, vamping child soldiers, and rose-hued rebels is the violence of their setting: the war-torn Kivu region of eastern Congo. Located near the border of Rwanda, Kivu has been ground zero for many of the worst atrocities of a civil war that has displaced millions and persisted intermittently for more than a decade. But Mosse, an Irish-born, Yale-educated photographer, has no interest in documenting the crisis from the sober vantage point of a war correspondent. Instead, he works with a wooden large-format camera and Kodak Aerochrome—an infrared film used for military aerial surveillance and Jimi Hendrix album covers before it was taken off the market two years ago—to render the Congo in a lurid hot pink that recalls the chromatic fashions of its urban sapeur subculture. He then titles his photos—of armed villagers, Seussian landscapes, and visiting celebrity emissaries—after Brian Eno and Morrissey songs. The work is “documentary in spirit,” Mosse explains in a lucid catalogue essay—but he also admits that he has “struggled with the idea that documentary photography . . . arrives pre-loaded with an implicit assumption of advocacy.” As a result, Infra, his first book, doesn’t look like a Reuters slide show so much as an arresting mash-up of fashion photography, military surveillance stills, and psychedelic dream imagery. Concerned less “with conscience than with consciousness,” Mosse breaks with the clichés of classical photojournalism, and allows his images to take on an unreality that befits their subjects. Men of Good Fortune (above), titled after a Lou Reed song, darkly alludes to the Congo’s status as one of the world’s richest countries in natural resources, despite its troubled political history. Cows graze by a fuchsia riverbank, and in the lower left-hand corner, two tiny figures (farmers? soldiers?) survey the land. They’re most likely Tutsis, and Mosse warns us not to be taken in by the scene’s bucolic appearance: “This spectacular farmland is . . . the scorched jungle of tribal battlefields . . . built on the bones of massacres, ethnic cleansing, and systematic sexual violence.” It’s a reminder that, as Lou Reed cautions, “men of good fortune often cause empires to fall.”

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