Richard Mosse

Crimson darkness

The connection between beauty and the tragedy of war has been a familiar theme in the history of art since the romantic painters of the 18th century. At the time, Eugène Delacroix represented the programmatic view that it is above all the intensity of the colors that determines how striking a picture appears. The painter therefore literally “colored in” portrayals of important battles by hand in the service of a loftier ideology.

Since in the 20th century our world and warfare have become more industrialized and the media more networked, political conflicts are illustrated not just by a few significant paintings, but also by a wealth of photographic images. Quite often, these help to direct the attention of the general public to the issues portrayed in the pictures. Richard Mosse’s work “The Enclave”, comprising films and photographs, explores the boundaries between conventional photojournalism and contemporary conceptual art. Color is the formal starting point for his work: Mosse uses infrared material developed by the U.S. military for camouflage detection in difficult terrain by showing green plants in brilliant shades of red. “The Enclave” deals with the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo, one of Africa’s major trouble zones for more than five decades. Particularly in the eastern provinces, which Mosse traveled through for his project in 2010 and 2011, a civil war is raging that has repeatedly resulted in humanitarian disasters.

The photographs in “The Enclave” are reminiscent of stereotyped images of Africa with their opulent jungle scenery. Too beautiful, but much too red, to be true, they display a sensual spectacle of wildness, expanse and scenic splendor. They are supplemented by still portraits, motifs of everyday life in the enemy camps and the perennial residues of violence. Like the scene of an arrest, in which it is obvious only at second glance that the armed soldier is dragging a person over the ground behind him. Or the ominous, wide hole in the ground, which conjures up gruesome thoughts of what it might mean, without really telling us anything about it.

Mosse does not try to depict the indescribable. Rather, he shows it in colored abstraction: The unnatural reds become a source of irritation, a garish dissonance, with which he merges his experience and sensations in Africa and distils them to create paradox, iridescent pictures. Beauty and horror are close companions joined in a dark alliance in his work. Such radical artistic expression combined with ethical commitment is exceptionally rare in contemporary photography. It conveys the nature of the Eastern Congo conflict with a poignancy far exceeding that of conventional photojournalism.

Biographical information

1980

born in Kilkenny, Ireland

2001

studies English Literature at Kings College, London

2005

receives a postgraduate diploma in Fine Art from Goldsmiths, University of London

2006–2008

receives a Leonore Annenberg Fellowship from the Annenberg Public Policy Center, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, USA

2008

completes his studies with an Master in Fine Arts in Photography from the Yale University School of Art, New Haven, Connecticut

2011

receives a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship

2013

represents Ireland at the Venice Biennale, Italy

2014

awarded the Deutsche Börse Photography Prize

lives and works in New York, New York, USA.