Wild Young Minds: The Color of Congo

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Color of Congo

Last January, when I was in Morocco with my friend Yeji, something tragic - for us, western girls - happened. In the middle of a beautiful landscape in a nomad village, her analog camera broke. Goodbye to all of the magnificent photos that were already made, goodbye to all those photos to come. This made her realize the reason why she loved to photograph so much. Not because of the memories - after all, those are in our heads as well - but for the aesthetics. The beauty of nature, the pure prettiness of countries.

Why am I telling you this anecdote? Because aesthetics are a very important aspect of photography, even when photographing or filming a country as troubled as Congo, where conflict after conflict happens and where babies are born in pain, awaiting a life filled with pain, misery and war. 
In his installation The Enclave, now exhibited in Amsterdam based photography museum FOAM, the artist Richard Mosse (1980) combines the dark world of suffering in Congo with aesthetic aspects such as color and music. The way he describes his project: ''an attempt to let two contradictory worlds collide: the potential of art to represent stories that are so painful that they exceed the limits of the language, and the ability of photography to document tragedies and communicate to the world''. 
How he succeeds in doing this? Richard Mosse went to Goma, the capital of mineral-rich North Kivu in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, where wholesale slaughters and sexual violence are the order of the day. He was accompanied by filmmaker Trevor Tweeten and Ben Foster, who recorded the sounds. Together with several rebellian groups, they travelled through Congo and documented the conflicts, the nature and the everyday life. 
The project resulted in various films and photos which have an overdosis of colours, especially pink and blue. The way Mosse created these effects, was by infrared film. According to Mosse, this was the ''approriate medium'' to film, since it is originally made for military purposes. Foliage reflects the infrared light and it is absorbed by camouflage. That's why camouflage troops and buildings can be shown, but also the pink tints in the photos. 
The exhibition is overwhelming, in a positive way. We arrived in a room filled with six gigantic screens, that all showed a different film, but they did correspond in what they showed. The images we saw variated from a singing child near the water, to a military group in a car or in the forest searching for victims. Since there were six different screens to look at, the story remains captivating the entire time. That's the reason why we stayed in the room for more than half an hour, I guess.
The power of the combination of outstandingly beautiful and colourful shots with the hardness of the situation (the African tragedy has costed more than 5,4 million lives already), is undescribable. It works, let's keep it that way. I can't imagine someone not being moved by the films, but also by the photos, which we saw in the second and third room in FOAM. There's this scene where you see an extremely painful pregnancy, and it silences you. Not just during the scene, but several minutes afterwards as well. 
If you find these photos mindblowing already, what awaits you, is a breathtaking experience. If you have the chance, you should definitely have a look in FOAM, since they way they created the room with the six screens, is to me the perfect way to experience what Mosse intended. Prepare yourselves by watching these photos, and then have a look before the 1st of July. 

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