Richard Mosse Uses a Military-Grade Thermal Camera to Photograph Refugees

Feb 15, 2017 - Apr 23, 2017Curve Gallery at the Barbican, London

In this chaotic and polarizing new era, showing signs of a radical shift towards nationalism and the extreme right, Incoming charts the refugee crisis unfolding across Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. War, persecution, climate change, and other factors have forced a global crisis of human displacement, the largest migration of people since WWII, with more than a million people crossing into the European Union each year since 2014. In response, conceptual documentary photographer and filmmaker Richard Mosse, in collaboration with composer Ben Frost and cinematographer Trevor Tweeten, has created an immersive multi-channel video installation employing an advanced thermal surveillance camera.

"I used a military-grade camera designed for battlefield awareness and long-range border surveillance in an attempt to engage and confront the ways in which many in the West, and our governments, represent – and therefore regard – the refugee. This thermal camera, which is produced in the EU by a multi-national weapons company, can detect body heat from a distance of 30.3 km, day or night. This powerful military tool was not designed for storytelling, and was never intended to be used aesthetically. We wanted to use the technology against itself to create an immersive, humanist art form, allowing the viewer to meditate on the profoundly difficult and frequently tragic journeys of refugees through the metaphors of hypothermia, global warming, border enforcement, mortality, and what the philosopher Giorgio Agamben has called the ‘bare life’ of stateless people." —Richard Mosse, 2017

Richard Mosse’s new body of work presents a portrait of migrants – escaping war, climate change, persecution and poverty – made with a camera that ‘sees’ much like a missile. At a time when, according to the UN, the world is experiencing the largest migration of people since the Second World War, with more than a million people fleeing to Europe by sea in 2015 alone, the film bears witness to this global event, mediated through a camera that is blind to skin colour. Projected across three 8 metre-wide screens, the video installation is accompanied by a visceral soundtrack blurring field recordings with synthetic sound.

See more stills from the film and read more about the project here.