Tuesday 23 January 2018

Migrant images that sear the soul

MOVING PICTURE: Images from ‘Incoming’, an installation created by Irish photographer Richard Mosse, who used a thermal-imaging camera designed for the military to document Europe’s refugee crisis. Photo: Tristan Fewings/Getty Images
MOVING PICTURE: Images from ‘Incoming’, an installation created by Irish photographer Richard Mosse, who used a thermal-imaging camera designed for the military to document Europe’s refugee crisis. Photo: Tristan Fewings/Getty Images
Donal Lynch

Donal Lynch

The writer Susan Sontag said that if we truly looked closely and empathetically at war photography, war itself would cease. It was the simple, stark images, shot through the barbed wire at Auschwitz, that woke Europe to the real horror of the Holocaust and it was photography, she pointed out, that really turned the US public against the Vietnam War.

Now a Kilkenny-born photographer has added to the canon of era-defining war images, creating horrific, dream-like pictures that burn themselves on the conscience.

Eighteen months ago, Richard Mosse and his collaborators - cinematographer Trevor Tweeten, writer John Holten and composer Ben Frost - used an unlikely instrument to film a harrowing scene.

Deploying a thermal-imaging camera developed for the US military, they captured a human trafficker's boat carrying 300 refugees as it sank off the coast of Turkey.

MOVING PICTURES: Images from ‘Incoming’, an installation created by Irish photographer Richard Mosse, who used a thermal-imaging camera designed for the military to document Europe’s refugee crisis. Photo: Tristan Fewings/Getty Images
MOVING PICTURES: Images from ‘Incoming’, an installation created by Irish photographer Richard Mosse, who used a thermal-imaging camera designed for the military to document Europe’s refugee crisis. Photo: Tristan Fewings/Getty Images

As the boat broke apart, they watched helplessly while human beings battled against the waves before slipping silently into the sea. Too far away to lend a hand, they carried on filming from the Greek island of Lesbos, about six miles away.

At a time when the world is facing the largest human migration since World War II, with more than a million people fleeing to Europe in 2015 by sea - escaping the war in Syria, political persecution in Africa and the Middle East - Mosse resolved to document this terrifying ordeal through a set of dramatic still and moving images. Fittingly, he did so using a camera that is sanctioned as a weapon by international law. The images speak for themselves.

  • Incoming is on display at the Barbican in London until April 23. Eight more images are on show at Jack Shainman gallery in New York (until March 11).

Sunday Independent

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