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Richard Mosse: Heat Maps at Jack Shainman Gallery

Art Scene

Richard Mosse: Heat Maps at Jack Shainman Gallery

“There is a new kind of camera that can detect thermal radiation, including body heat, at vast distances. Married to extreme telephoto capabilities, this allows it to cut through atmospheric haze and see far beyond the human eye…The camera is produced by a multinational defense and security corporation that manufactures cruise missiles, drones, and other technologies. Primarily designed for surveillance, it can also be connected to weapons systems to track and target the enemy.”

Photo: Anders Jones

These words are from the beginning of an essay, Transmigration of Souls, by photographer, Richard Mosse. The essay is in the book, Incoming, and features photographs by Mosse shot with the extreme telephoto military grade camera he describes. The project, Heat Maps, documents the current refugee crisis taking place in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. The work is currently on view at Jack Shainman Gallery and will travel to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London later this spring; a result of its nomination in 2016 for the Pric Pictet, a global award in photography and sustainability.

Richard Mosse, Idomeni Camp, Greece, 2016, digital c-print on metallic paper, 40 x 120 inches (print)

The camera is designed to detect thermal radiation, including body heat from long distances, which Mosse uses to startling effect. Shooting from elevated positions, his images offer vast black and white panoramic thermal views. The vantage point of the photographs offers one of kind access for the general public to spatial layouts, tents, temporary shelters, and details of camp life.  However, the surveillance style images that the camera is designed to produce reveal a stark dehumanizing aura.

Incoming, 52 minutes 10 seconds, three channel HD video with 7.1 surround sound. Produced in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, 2014-2017. Co-commissioned by the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, and Barbican Art Gallery, London. Director / Producer: Richard Mosse; Cinematographer / Editor: Trevor Tweeten; Composer / Sound Designer: Ben Frost; Production Assistants: Daphne Tolis, Marta Giaccone, John Holten; and, Colorist: Jerome Thelia.

Human figures appear primarily in white as a result of the camera’s heat seeking technology. Images shot at night show groups of bodies together glowing like nightlights. They appear to be talking, but their silence in the face of the viewer is loud. Scattered tents appear as white light as well, indicating human beings still awake passing time inside temporary accommodations. Other images reveal graphic patterned landscapes against mountain backdrops, while simultaneously capturing a monumental sense of isolation.

Photo: Anders Jones

Smaller images in the exhibition feature video stills from a three-screen video installation by Mosse. Titled, Incoming, the film debuted alongside Mosse’s book of the same title at Curve Gallery in London’s Barbican Centre on February 15, 2017. The images offer a more intimate perspective on the plight of refugees and share the film’s immersive and visceral qualities. As troubling and eye opening as Mosse’s Heat Maps may be, it is remarkable that he used a technological tool designed to aid in death, turned it on itself, and created work that moves the public toward empathy, as well as a greater insight and awareness of the dual nature of technology.

Richard Mosse: Heat Maps at Jack Shainman Gallery is on view through March 11, 2017.

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