Richard Mosse- Infra
Having been to the Open Eye gallery before, I was looking forwards to visiting again and to see the work by Richard Mosse. As some of the background to the study visit, I looked online at some of Mosse’s work but while it was a useful insight, I also feel that viewing images printed on webpages can never convey the actual size, colour and impact that can be found when seeing these exhibited.
On entering the gallery, my immediate impressions were that the photographs were much more vividly coloured and eye catching than I was expecting. The colours were much more vivid with a wider range of tones than I was expecting and gave an unreal and fairy-tale quality to the subject.
We had quite a debate about the use of the infra-red film, was it a considered choice, was it a cheap gimmick or was it just a fluke that Mosse didn’t know the extent to which the colours would really be changed from what we see with the human eye?
I liked the switch of colours and for me it forced me to focus on the subject and what Mosse was trying to convey, it took away the part that thinks about is it technically perfect and just to look at what was there. The large scale really works well and some of the images such as ‘Men of Good Fortune’ are very much big, bold and in your face, but then you look further and I found I started off at a distance and then moved forwards to look at the individual details. The large scale is needed to help you to take in the detail and that is something that it isn’t possible to do when looking at the images online.
Men of Good Fortune. Copyright Richard Mosse
With the content of some of the images such as ‘Lava Floe’, I struggled to see what was actually happening in the image or even to locate where it was, by turning the traditional colours upside down almost, it stripped away any pre conceptions that I had about what the Democratic Republic of Congo looks like and it becomes hard to recognise what I was seeing.
In this image where the lava from the local volcano had actually destroyed the town and rebuilding was in place, I thought tornado or the conflict had spread, I’d never expected it to be lava flow, but without seeing the titles with the images, you form different impressions on the context.
Lava Floe Copyright Richard Mosse
I liked that the images were taken with a wider viewpoint as it had the context of the area combined with the human perspective but it wasn’t always obvious at first look and it was quite subtle in places where you get the feeling that something had happened and everyone had suddenly deserted the area and left the little goat/calf abandoned. Reading around after the exhibition, Mosse discusses a Rwandan Hutu rebel group that live in the jungle and emerge only to loot and ambush before disappearing back into the landscape and I wonder if this is what’s happened here.
I feel that the images we saw were extracts from a series and I found myself wondering about why these had been chosen as I wanted to see a sequence and what came before and after some of the situations pictured. While the colours were unusual, it stripped away the preconceptions that I had about the Congo and slowed me down so that I took my time looking and taking the detail in, and thinking about what I was seeing and trying to place it into a context that I understood and was comfortable with. I’m not sure I’d have one hanging on the wall but I’d certainly spend more time looking at them.
Simon Norfolk ‘For most of it I have no words: Genocide, Landscape, Memory’
The second part of the study visit was to the archive exhibition ‘For most of it I have no words: Genocide, Landscape, Memory’ by Simon Norfolk.
My first impressions were that it was a direct contrast to the bright colours in the main gallery, all the images were black and white, and were much smaller in size. They flowed in an order that made sense chronologically and I feel that this series must have been a conscious choice by the curator. I didn’t have any background knowledge of the photographer or his work so I went to this with fresh eyes.
To start with, some of the images were not immediately obvious as to the subject, an example of this is ‘Armenia: Exile’ at first all you get is landscape, the image is such that it’s almost all sky and breaks the usual rules of composition, yet as you look at it, it becomes obvious that there are two horse riders and it suddenly brings the whole scale into view and you get a sense of exile, loneliness but also freedom
I found the series of images mixes up traditional techniques such as leading lines with breaking the rules such as in ‘Armenia: Exile’ but that the overall feeling for me is that the images are quite stark and sobering but it takes time to look through the series and to think about the detail in there to appreciate the content. If you just quickly skimmed the gallery, you would miss the horrors contained within, that you see when you stand close to and start to examine everything there.
Armenia Exile Copyright Simon Norfolk
Auschwitz: Staircase in a prison block Copyright Simon Norfolk
When we were asked to pick an image that we felt had the most impact, I chose ‘Cambodia: A former teachers college’. My eye was drawn to this out of the series simply due to the dog in the centre of the image; I loved the fact that it was a still image with the blurred dog giving a sense of movement, and the symmetry of the building around it. It wasn’t until I started to wonder what was at the back of the building that I started to look deeper into the image and again, this was an example of how seeing a larger size image is really essential to take in the detail, that I realised that the white objects were human skulls and bones all piled up. I found the huge amount of human remains within what was once a college quite a paradox and something that was very uncomfortable to view.
Another example was ‘Rwanda: Halo’ at first glance it was hard for me to see what I was looking at; it was just abstract shapes and monochrome colour. When I got closer and started to work through the detail, I was actually looking at a burned body and it’s only the hint of white bone and teeth that make you realise it was actually a person.
While I enjoyed being challenged by both exhibitions and the content, I found the images by Mosse quite thought provoking, but they didn’t necessarily all spell out conflict to me as much as the images by Norfolk which chilled me and left me feeling quite unsettled as we viewed and discussed them, and this is the first exhibition that has had that effect on me.
On my third study visit, I certainly feel the benefits of attending and taking the time to have a considered viewing of the images as well as the debate on how we all interpret what we are seeing. For me this is a very valuable part of my study and I’m getting more comfortable with forming my own opinions and realising that there isn’t a right answer, what we see is subjective depending on our views, background, history and a whole other number of factors and that you can have an informed debate without fear that you going to be shot down in flames. The face to face element helps enormously and I would encourage anyone who hasn’t already been on a study visit to consider it, and to try different visits outside of your chosen study area as these can also be so beneficial. I attended the Alice in Wonderland and Matisse study day where my chosen area was only quite small but the essentials of composition and colour are still relevant whatever medium it is.