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Colonel Soleil's Boys, 2010 Rebels of the National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP) are integrated into the Congolese national army, the FARDC, at Mushaki, Masisi Territory, North Kivu. (Richard Mosse)

Kodak's Retired Infrared Film Creates A Hot Pink Congo

by Jessica Schreibstein
Dec 3, 2011

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Infrared Kodak film renders certain colors in magenta. Many rebels still roam the countryside of the Democratic Republic of Congo, which has been plagued by violence for much of the past 15 years, including this fighter in North Kivu, in the far east of the country. (She Brings the Rain, 2011)

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Jessica Schreibstein

This past Monday, the Democratic Republic of Congo held elections for just the second time in its history. The country is trying to emerge from years of civil war, and the election is an attempt create a more stable leadership.

But there are also fears that the election, whose results have not yet been announced, could stoke tensions and unleash a new round of violence.

Attempting to document the turmoil in the Congo poses great challenges. It is the second largest country on the continent and travel is difficult and often dangerous in areas where rebels operate.

Irish photographer Richard Mosse created a highly unusual look at the country by going to the remote far east of Congo and shooting his series Infra with recently discontinued Kodak infrared film.

Kodak's Aerochrome color infrared film was developed by the U.S. military in the 1940s for camouflage detection. It reveals a part of the light spectrum that is invisible to the human eye, producing a unique color palette that artists, like Jimi Hendrix and Frank Zappa, would use for a psychedelic effect on album covers years later.

It's not an easy film to use, even in the best of circumstances. Working in Congo, a country with few paved roads or tourist infrastructure, was "very difficult," Mosse writes in an email. He has worked in challenging environments like Iraq and Haiti before.

Mosse preferred to shoot the series in Congo's rainy season, during which "the landscape turns into a sublime assault course — frail humanity versus overwhelming equatorial forces of nature. Think plane crashes, hemorrhagic fever, malaria, cars driving off cliffs."

Mosse had never used infrared film before shooting Infra, currently a solo exhibition at Jack Shainman Gallery in New York City.

He says using the film "has been an endless trial, negotiating my own inadequacy with a military reconnaissance technology that registers a type of light that is invisible to the human eye."

And since this light is invisible, he writes, "I was literally photographing blind. The film places me at the limits of representation, the points at which not just photography but perception itself begins to fail."

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