Exhibitions, Inspiration, Landscape, Photojournalism, Project reviews, Theory


Enclave, n. – a part of a country entirely surrounded by foreign territory

‘By contrast with the beautiful and the picturesque, the sublime is associated with awe, danger and pain, with places where accidents happen, where things run beyond human control, where nature is untamable.’ – Land Matters, Landscape Photography, Culture and Identity, Liz Wells, 2011


The electrostatic whine of feedback reverberating around this darkened room accompanies the crimson shades of ‘Enclave’, the photographer Richard Mosse’s latest Congo Project.

Trapped in its own subterranean world – this overspill display forms part of the Deutsche Börse Photography Prize exhibition at the Photographers’ Gallery, and manifests itself as a stream of consciousness halfway between dream and reality.

In this disconnected space, the curatorial process can be taken as a fundamental element to the work itself. The lack of visible light paradoxically makes the viewer more aware of their own presence while negotiating the strange hypnotic properties of the images.


The inspired act of selecting (practically) obsolete military surveillance film, which renders vegetation in lurid red and magenta hues adds to the symbiotic relationship between content and context. Cast out from the pristine white walls of the gallery, these images are further removed from their documentary roots and engage more with the conceptual notions of representation – particularly with regard to our consumption of images of Africa as ‘other’ or ‘apart’ from western experience.

Six bed-sheet sized transparent screens hang from the ceiling, adding to the immersive nature of the work. Onto these are projected infra-red moving images from the Congo, a place where the death toll – 5.4 million since 1998 – mirrors that of the holocaust. Much like the unfathomable extent of this tragedy, the project deals less with the specifics of the ongoing conflicts, and more with a dark psychological brew into which fact and fiction melt and dissolve.


Given this universal treatment, beauty and the sublime, albeit as something of a technical construct, are never far from the surface. A languid descent of a hillside down into a refugee camp is made cinematic with the expert use of a steady-cam, before laboring, somewhat uncomfortably, on a father holding a child in the belly of the camp. This methodology is the antithesis of the Photojournalist grabbing at action, and seems to have more in common with theatre or other performative fiction.

Mosse, filmmaker Trevor Tweeten and sound recordist Ben Frost, have chosen to view this troubled land through a prism in an attempt to extract some hidden truth from a story as impenetrable as the surrounding vegetation. By rendering the infra-red into the ocular range, they have managed to successfully re-frame the conflict and, in so doing, have turned technology used for warfare back in on itself to show its raw, hallucinogenic underbelly.


The exhibition continues until the 22nd June.


Mali Malaise

A rest stop on the road to Gao

A rest stop on the road to Gao

The recent trouble in Mali brings back memories of a trip I took there back in December 2006.  Named the Niger River Project, the idea was to follow in the footsteps of the great Mungo Park who ‘discovered’ the flow of the Niger River back in 1797.  It was a memorable time, and although not without its problems (malaria, lost passport), we came away having made firm friends with some of the locals.

With foreign tourists having dried up, those with a little education who can at least try and get employment as guides, are now suffering along with the general population.  No longer employed, and with very few other prospects, these young men could easily be sucked into fighting in the north of the country.  Hopefully our friend Atemelou won’t be one of them.  Last I heard he was heading back to his family home in the Dogon with the idea of writing about the amazing history of the place…

Animated in the Dogon valley, 2006

Animated in the Dogon valley, 2006

Most people are never likely to travel to Mali.  It’s definitely off the beaten track, and wouldn’t attract those whose holiday priorities have ‘luxury’ or even ‘relaxation’ high on the list.  Nevertheless it has a vibrant, energetic music culture which ran in parallel to the world’s best through the last century, and still continues to this day.  The vibe was captured most notably by the ‘Eye of Bamako’ Malick Sibide.  By engaging with these pictures of joy from a continent where the stream of bad news reaches a torrent all too often, we break the cycle of stereotyping, and see the people behind the headlines.  People like my mate Atemelou.

Nuit de Noel, 1963

Behind the scenes

The end of Africa time

Waiting outside the National Archives building from Moi Avenue, 2005

I admit it, I was late.

When I first arrived in  Kenya 10 years ago, wide-eyed and clutching my grandfather’s leather-bound diary under one arm, one of the first pieces of advice given by my cousins was to be prepared to wait.  Waiting was a national pastime.  Waiting for someone to turn up for a meeting, was a concept that was particularly important to understand, and for which one had to make serious allowances.

So, when I texted David Githiomi – my long time friend and fixer –  from a snarled up highway on my way into Nairobi for our first meeting, I was fairly confident he would be suffering the same fate as me somewhere on the other side of town.  I was relying on my ‘Africa time’ insurance policy, to which I had invested somewhat heavily, and thought applied equally to locals as well as visitors.  When I did arrive about twenty minutes late, offering a breathless apology, I was suitably reprimanded – with a mischievous glint in his eye – by David, standing like a teacher waiting for his errant pupil on the steps of the National Archives building.

This didn’t effect the rest of our day, but it did get me thinking about my attitude to time, and to this rather archaic and somewhat patronizing concept of ‘Africa Time’ – surely a now defunct relic from colonial days.  It seems to be particularly irrelevant at this moment with the proliferation of mobile phones.  Fifty percent of the entire population of the continent now have mobile phones; twelve percent of Kenya’s GDP moves via M-Pesa – an innovative and simple mobile technology similar to Paypal – and (tragically) more people have access to mobile phones on the continent than fresh water.

Mobiles, of course, are also great for keeping time, which is why there is now no excuse for lateness.  Then again, how anyone can get in to Nairobi by car with any degree of certainty about when they’re going to arrive, is totally beyond me…


Land Grabbers

My good friend Ben Willis put me on to this Guardian article relating to the process of wealthy States and individuals buying up land in parts of Africa (in this case a place called Gambella in south west Ethiopia) in order to secure food for its own population.

In the article by writer Fred Pearce, he highlights the plight of local villagers, who are inextricably linked to the land, ‘…here in Gambella, their land is like their blood.  It is everything.  And to lose it would be to lose their identity.’

Yet they are being re-located to villages outside their ancestral homes with little or no warning while this new ‘scramble’ takes place.

Pearce says,’The villagisation programme will relocate a domestic population much in the manner of Stalin, Mao or Pol Pot.’

One of the landgrabbers is Sheikh Mohammed Hussein Ali Al Amoud – an Ethiopian born Saudi oil billionaire – and confidant of Ethiopia’s prime minister, Meles Zenawi.  The Sheikh has also employed a former Ethiopian minister to smooth over any land rights issues.

‘Land grabbing is having more of an impact on the lives of poor people than climate change,’ says Pearce.

Fred Pearce has a book out on the subject which can be bought here.

The Guardian blog on the subject is here.