BT Robinson

Richard Mosse: Reading #3

In Photographic Interaction on February 15, 2011 at 4:51 pm

(Infra Series)

The conversation of ethic and aesthetic is taken up Mosse, citing Susan Sontag, a name I’ve grown wonderfully familiar with thanks to my Religious Studies minor and Dimock’s History of Photography. The conversation is cleverly woven, using the Kodak Aerochrome film, meant to take pictures from the sky, the “flying low artistically speaking” that Susan Sontag states, and the overall ineffability of the conflict in the Congo. Military film, militar conflict. This is all well and good, and I admire his ability to defend choices that, to the average person inundated in photo-journalism, seems bizarre.

But it’s that which catches my interest: that is, the role of the photojournalist. Mosse does what the photojournalist is supposed to avoid: give credence to the aesthetic. By using this film which brings out a pinkish–sometimes deep red–tone, the conversation lifts away from the conflict itself, the so-called “ethic” of describing the events as he sees them, and discussing the image itself.

In post-Photoshop culture, our belief–my belief–in the photojournalist has long dwindled. No longer do they hold guilt in adding or manipulating imagery in order to invoke a deeper emotional response. And perhaps they need to, because, as I said before, we’ve seen it all before. Turn on your television, and do not blink as bloodied bodies and crying children fill your screen. Slow-motion, cross-fades, Sarah McLachlan playing in the background. In short, it’s a cliché. Rather than push harder, deeper, hoping to cut into the human psyche the way no one has before, Mosse, instead, admits: “This will not affect you.”

Okay, he doesn’t say that specifically, but when the conflict is impossible for us to understand, what do you do? You create art. I think of Sontag’s essays in “On Photography,” and how they are not rigid, cited works, but instead, flows in a sort of literary fashion, taking on these moments of photographic history with bias and little “academic” supports. I’m not saying that Mosse is pushing forward a particular bias. On the contrary, I’m saying that he is doing as Sontag did, taking a medium and tilting it slightly, so that it becomes something different altogether.

As an artist, weighted down with the pressure to create culturally and socially significant work, looking at Mosse reminds me that the aesthetic can still hold on. Of course, it’s not so simple as “I want to take a pretty picture in the Congo.” His work is in conversation with his peers, with history, and does stand firm on it’s own feet because of the cleverly woven conversation.

This is only one solution to a continuing conversation.

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