Irish war photographer Richard Mosse has traveled to the Democratic Republic of Congo three times in the past three years — he’s made it his mission, he says, to document a war so deep-seeded and tragic that it challenges “the limits of description”. To describe the indescribable, Mosse has developed a unique methodology: he shoots using Kodak Aerochrome, a rare infrared film originally developed by the military to spot camouflage from above.
We’ve covered Mosse before, back in 2011, when his first still images were shown in London under the title Infra. But this week at the Venice Biennale, Mosse will unveil The Enclave, a film documentary shot over the past year in the interior of the country. Projected on dozens of massive screens within a darkened gallery, Mosse describes the film as an attempt to move viewers out of their ambivalence, using a one-two punch of extreme beauty and extreme violence:
Beauty is the main line to make people feel something, the sharpest tool in the box. If you’re trying to make people feel something — if you’re able to make it beautiful, they’ll sit up and listen. Often, if you make something that’s derived from human suffering or war, and if you represent that with beauty, it creates an ethical problem in the viewers’ mind. And so then they’re confused, and angry, and this is great — because you got them to actually think.
It’s strange to frame war photography as a pursuit of beauty; In a way, Mosse is brandishing our own ambivalence as a visual weapon. If you can’t make people pay attention to the reality of war, make war into something people do pay attention to: beauty. Check out the whole video above.