Monday 16 July 2018

Richard Mosse - Incoming

Having produced some highly successful images using medium-format false-colour infrared film, Richard Mosse turned his hand to thermal imaging. Taking artistic thermal images is difficult. This is partly any equipment capable of producing images with anything like a pleasing resolution is extremely expensive and often militarily sensitive, but the way objects give off thermal wavelengths can appear to be unpredictable and somewhat messy.

In recent years, thermal cameras have appeared with resolutions comparable with HD TV, and the BBC Natural History Unit shot some fascinating night-time sequences with such a camera. I'm sure military applications have achieved even higher resolution.

Richard Mosse's book 'Incoming', published last year (and apologies for being slow to pick up on this) ventures into military territory with a combination of high resolution and a very long lens. The military have used long lenses with near-infrared photography since the second world war, making use of NIR's capability to cut through haze over long distances, over 100 miles under the right conditions. Such photos were taken with the equivalent of a telescope as the lens. (There are examples of long distance infrared photos taken using astronomical telescopes, notably at Lick Observatory in the early 1920s.) Now thermal imaging technology allows hyper-long-distance shots using far-infrared radiation, and Richard Mosse got his hands on such a device, with the intention of shooting a movie illustrating the plight of refugees. The results are, in turn, illustrated in the 'Incoming' book.

With this level of detail, and a straight monochromatic palette, the results are a surreal version of conventional photography; just slightly out of phase with our usual perception. The down-side is that the camera, with its power-pack, weighed about the same as a person and was mounted in a Steadicam designed for 'old fashioned' 35mm movies. Even then, it lacked anything like conventional controls and had to be operated using an X-Box controller.

Some of the shots are from a great distance, and exhibit extreme telephoto effects. Some are much more naturalistic, with the high resolution exposing folds of clothing and perspiration on skin. Some are tight crops. Some, in the book, may not be true thermal images. Can you take a thermal image of the moon? I'm not sure, but to be honest in this context I don't care. This camera is designed for remote surveillance and is described as allowing us "to see the way missiles see" so it may even be a hybrid.

Incoming's form factor is also unusual. It's around 7-inches square, over an inch thick, with black edges. Everything is full-bleed with a prevalence of black, and the ink has both a metallic sheen and a slightly oily smell. You don't so much read it as become immersed in it. Almost all pages are images, with two essays at the end one entitles "Biopolitics and the rights of man", byGiorgio Agamben, the other by Mosse himself documenting the process he and his team undertook.

More info can be found on the Mack web site, from which you can order the book as well.

Incoming by Richard Mosse
Published by Mack
576 pages
280 tritone plates
17.5 cm x 19.7 cm
€40.00 £35.00 $45.00