Richard Mosse, The Castle – Sylvain Campeau, Human Traces

[Fall 2018]

By Sylvain Campeau

Presented in this year’s edition of the annual Scotiabank Contact Photography Festival in Toronto, this exhibition was probably the festival’s centrepiece.1 It is a collection of works that seem to emanate from two series produced by Irish photographer Richard Mosse: The Castle, from which no doubt the most important pieces have been selected, and Incoming, a video work showing only a series of photograms. An exten­sive grouping of these is also in a book that Mosse published in 2017.

As he had first done in 2011 and 2013 for Infra and The Enclave, Mosse uses a military tracking technology. In those series, it was an infrared film camera capable of detecting human presences in dense foliage. This time, it is a video cam­ era able to capture the thermal signature of a human body in relation to the climatic conditions of its immediate environ­ment. Considered an element in the panoply of technological weapons, this camera, made by a military arms manufacturer, is protected by an international legal instrument known as the International Traffic in Arms Regulations. This classification made it difficult for Mosse to cross borders, which was a prerequisite for the project that he wanted to pursue with the technology.

It was once again to make a portrait of difficult human conditions that Mosse used this special image ­recording device. It was a war in Africa for The Enclave; this time, for The Castle, he was interested in human displacements caused by other confrontations. In this series, the images are of refugee camps located in various European nations.

The remote point of view from which the images of these habitats were rendered was obviously due to the fact that he could not approach the camps. The combination of the camera’s range and Earth’s curvature also contributed to the need to be at a distance. With this camera, which can detect the human body at a distance of 30.3 kilometres, he captured them, from an elevated position, in images that owe much to the state­-of­-the-­art technology: the shots were taken with a super-­telescopic lens, attached to a camera capable of thermal sensitivity, activated by a controlled-­motion robotic arm. One video in the exhibition, Grid (described below), gives a striking idea of the results obtained with this equipment. The lens al­lows him to capture images in a tight frame, in a sort of visual cell in which are contained refugees waiting for regularization. The large formats that we see in the galleries are therefore the recomposition into a single image of these myriads of truncated shots, woven together to create a complete, overall view, encompassing the camp as a whole…
[Translated by Käthe Roth]

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1 Richard Mosse, The Castle, Arsenal Contemporary, Toronto, April 26 to June 9, 2018.

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