There are many ways for photographers to document war, from portraying its victims or perpetrators, to showing the scars it leaves on the landscape, to making images that speak of the disappearance of a certain population. Irish-born photographer Richard Mosse favors recording the wartime wreckage abandoned as junk, creating pictures of the military vehicles and airplanes left rusting in snowbound forests and barren deserts. In this exhibition, Mosse’s second solo in New York, a dozen large-scale color photographs and one video captured the relics of war from several angles.
In a few images, U.S. soldiers are shown lounging beside Uday Hussein’s enormous empty swimming pool; the bright turquoise paint of its walls contrasts starkly with the dusty beige of the landscape, the brown rubble on the pool’s bottom and the desert-camouflage uniforms of the poolside GIs. In other works, cars so thoroughly riddled with bullet holes as to be nearly collapsed sit abandoned in arid stretches of land, the dust-filled air a sickly mustard yellow. In the series “The Fall,” defunct airplanes are shown decaying on snowy mountain ridges in the Canadian hinterlands, or in warmer climes, as in 727 Santo Domingo (2009), where a thick clump of ivy has begun to climb the body of a rusting plane. (An earlier series not included in this show pictured flaming dummy airplanes used for emergency rescue practice.)
Mosse is not yet 30, but he has already documented some of the most formidable sites in the world, including the smuggling tunnels of Gaza, bullet-scarred Beirut and the wrecked palace of Saddam Hussein (the photographs of which are among those he took while embedded with the U.S. military). The video Unitled (Iraq), 2009, opens on a windswept dune, and as the camera begins to circle twisted metal scraps left in the sand, a voice recites Iraqi place names in alphabetical order from Abu Ghraib to Tikrit. The metal, used for target practice by American soldiers, had rusted into an oxidized lace. Trash in another context, this debris bears witness to violent histories. As with the derelict cars and planes, we can’t help but anthropomorphize these meager remains. Mosse’s photographs conjure the effects of war we know but do not see here: human bodies shattered and lives lost.
Photo: Richard Mosse: Pool at Uday’s Palace, 2009, C-print on Plexiglas, 72 by 96 inches; at Jack Shainman.