Within the maze of clothing chains, tourist shops and overpriced coffee houses lies Brewer Street car park. A concrete block set back from the hustle and bustle of carrier-bag laden holiday makers, the dull façade is actually home to the little-known Vinyl Factory. Led by small pink stickers on the floor we were taken under the barrier, past the cars, down the stairs, into the basement and to what turned out to be the exhibition space for Richard Mosse’s recent project, The Enclave.
In the darkness of the empty car park, Mosse’s ceiling-high red stained photographs gazed out unavoidably. Using only infrared film, Mosse has captured images of those living in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, inverting the camouflage green of soldiers’ uniforms and the vast landscape and inserting a vibrancy through vivid shades of pink and red.
Staring into the deep eyes of a soldier sat atop a pink tree, a low hum led us past the photographs and towards a second space, where four screens surrounded four more in the centre of the room. Projected onto each were videos Mosse had filmed, also in infrared. Wandering through the images, sitting in the centre and flicking from one to another instilled a realism not possible through a single frame. In real life your gaze wonders, focus changes. Surrounded by different images, Mosse allowed you to feel as though you were with him behind the camera. The effect made the content all the more evocative.
The films split into different stages of Mosse’s trip, introducing the landscape: immense stretches of still water and the densely overgrown pinkness of everlasting hills. After plunging the audience into darkness more clips began, this time of soldiers storming a village. The almost ethereal red filter and muted sound distanced the horrifying nature of the shooting, only to be plummeted back to reality by Mosse’s final focus on a young girl dancing and giggling for the camera – dead bodies in the foreground of the shot.
The infrared film is the same as that used by militia groups searching for hidden men or camouflaged enemy installations. A land characterised by conflict, the harsh reality of life in the DRC is often documented. However, through an almost fanciful lens, Mosse ‘attempts to overturn traditional realism, and see beneath the surface’ – highlighting the individual, the community and the human face rather than the indistinguishable scenes of war we’re usually shown. He romanticises the setting, yet in doing so reveals the raw horror of life in a warzone. The final series of film is split between the burying of those shot in combat and a woman giving birth in a Congolese hospital; encapsulating the inescapable cycle of this war-ridden country.
Through fantasy-like colouring Mosse captures a side of the conflict not visible through a normal lens, just as militia spotted hidden enemies through the same means. In doing so, Mosse seeks to highlight the inadequacy of documentary photography that has preceded him – failing to communicate the cyclical nature of war and the fate of those born into it.
Winner of this year’s Deutsche Börse Photography Prize, Mosse will feature in The Photographer’s Gallery exhibit opening tomorrow (11th April) in London W1. The Enclave is on at The Vinyl Factory until the 26th April, free entry.