Richard Mosse’s Incoming is showing at the Barbican until the 23rd of April. It’s quite a chilling, but beautiful array of work all made using military grade infra red cameras.
Photos don’t really do justice to the images, as they are on a huge scale yet show a staggering amount of detail. As well as still images there are also a couple of film installation using the same cameras. All of the imagery is of refugee camps, and so you spend a lot of time in the exhibition staring at people. It feels quite creepy, as you watch people go about their everyday lives, constantly subjected to the gaze of the cameras. It’s an experience we too undergo everyday (if you live in a city, in any case), but to be on the other end, in such a monumental context shows how significant surveillance really is. It’s easy to become used to it and to never consider the effect it has on us.
With the advance of ubiquitous computing we are slowly ridding ourselves of our collective blind-spots. Cameras and other sensors saturate our environment and keep us constantly up to date on what is happening anywhere. I think we will reach a point when physical distance will cease to have any meaningful significance. Already “the other side of the world” means something else to us as compared to one hundred years ago.
In one sense, increased knowledge is an empowering thing for all of us, but Mosse’s photography reveals how too often, sensor-based technology empowers a minority. The camera watching the refugees is intrusive, but in a subtle way. It’s not as obvious as a wall or a border, but it restricts what they can do, and further more, can do it from 30km away. One interesting artifact of the cameras is how there is little degradation of detail with distance. Everything sort of occupies a single plane of clarity. It’s so clear it becomes unreal, there is definitely an “uncanny valley” effect when you watch people move about like super-realistic mannequins.
This a fantastic example of taking militarised technology and using it to reveal its own character and that of those who hide behind it. The facelessness of CCTV is all the more disconcerting when you realise there is a face behind the screen.