Dehumanised Perspective

At a time when, according to the UN, the world is experiencing the largest migration of people since the Second World War, with millions fleeing to Europe by sea to escape war, climate change, persecution and poverty – Richard Mosse’s film presents a portrait of migrants made with a weapons-grade camera that enters the eye of a missile.

Barbican Art Gallery has invited Mosse (b. 1980), a conceptual documentary photographer and Deutsche Börse Photography Prize winner, to create an immersive multi-channel video installation in the Curve. In collaboration with composer Ben Frost and cinematographer Trevor Tweeten, Mosse has been working with a powerful telephoto military camera that can detect the human body from a distance of more than 30km and accurately identify an individual from 6.3km, day or night. He has used this technology to create an artwork about the migration crisis unfolding across the Middle East, North Africa and Europe.

The thermal camera, blind to skin colour or to any features that discern individuals, sensing only heat, captures images of glowing bodies crossing dangerous waters, drowning at sea and sleeping in makeshift camps, struggling for survival in the search for sanctuary. Projected across three 8m screens, the video installation is accompanied by a visceral soundtrack blurring ambient field recordings with synthetic sound design to create an overwhelming, immersive experience.

Mosse notes: “I am European. I am complicit. I wanted to foreground this perspective in a way, to try to see refugees and illegal immigrants as our governments see them. I wanted to enter into that logic in order to create an image that reveals it. The camera is intrusive of individual privacy, yet the imagery that this technology produces is so dehumanised – the person literally glows – that the medium anonymises the subject in ways that are both insidious and humane.”

The Irish-born, New York-based photographer is renowned for work that challenges documentary conventions, notably Infra (2011) and The Enclave (2013), which employed a now discontinued 16mm colour infrared film called Kodak Aerochrome that transformed the lush green landscape of the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo into vivid hues of pink, creating a surreal dreamscape.

Richard Mosse: Incoming, 15 February – 23 April at Barbican Centre, London.

1. Richard Mosse, Safe from Harm, South Kivu, eastern D.R. Congo, 2012 ©. Richard Mosse. Courtesy of the artist, Jack Shainman Gallery, New York and carlier|gebauer, Berlin.