The Beauty of the Rainforest, As Seen by Richard Mosse

November 25, 2019


Richard Mosse’s new body of work, “Ultra”, captures the precious, irreplaceable beauty of the rainforest eco-system through a closely examined depiction of its plant and insect life. At a time when the fragile rainforest is under serious threat from population pressure, burning and deforestation, cattle farms, palm oil plantations, illegal goldmines, and other human-built infrastructure, Mosse investigates the complexity of its biome, its symbiotic relationships and interdependency.

© Richard Mosse Drosera tokaiensis, 2019

The rainforest is a place of constant predation, where the natural world is in a perpetual cycle of kill-or-be-killed. This series examines the ways in which plant and insect life have evolved over millions of years for survival, often by developing forms of camouflage, while orchid flowers have evolved to perfectly complement the shape of orchid bees, formalizing the interdependence of the eco-system.

To make this series, Mosse borrows a scientific photographic technique to capture ultraviolet fluorescence. The resulting artworks have been composited from numerous separate images (typically fifty or more frames) to yield large-scale, hyper-detailed, ethereal landscapes. The natural world takes on an unfamiliar and almost alien aspect due to the fluorescence of UV light in the visible spectrum, making the soft surfaces and fibrous stalks of flowers seem sheathed in tinted metals while textured plant life takes on a glowing bejeweled quality that seems almost intestinal. The light amplifies the camouflaged patterns of insects; the crosshatching in their eyes and wings are depicted with lucid clarity.

© Richard Mosse Katydid with Nepenthes, 2019

Mosse observes: “My subject, the tactile cloud forest mosses, lichens, spider webs, bark, corporeal orchid flesh and the dazzling carapaces of insects, once illuminated by this unearthly light, became profoundly beautiful. Wandering through the forest at night with a UV torch, I was enchanted by an unseen glowing world of natural activity. The ultraviolet fluorescence seemed to heighten my perception of this complex interdependency; the colors and textures began to meld under this narrow wavelength of visible light, refining my focus on the building blocks of life. These highly aesthetic forms have evolved to warn, entrap, ambush, evade, kill and survive. Our existence is not predicated on their destruction. We have the technological means to protect this extraordinary natural beauty, which is essential for our survival as a species. The intimate and detailed landscapes of Ultra appear to be a departure for Mosse, an experienced conflict photographer, but the investigation of this ecosystem continues his practice of using hyperspectral visual effects to explore the crossroads between aesthetics, violence, camouflage and perception.”

© Richard Mosse Dionaea muscipula with Mantodea, 2019

In the adjacent gallery, a selection of images from Mosse’s “Heat Maps”, highlights a different site of conflict that the artist has explored: the refugee crisis in Europe. Taken with a militarygrade border enforcement thermal camera, which reads heat instead of light, this body of work makes visible the daily, lived experience of millions of refugees and migrants struggling to survive in uncertain, often hostile conditions.

The infrared camera reads the heat of human bodies, obfuscating any defining physical features, and thereby mimicking the governmental practice of reducing each individual to one among many, a nebulous mass reducible to statistics and rhetoric. To create this series, the artist took as many as a thousand smaller images of a given camp and stitched them together to create the detail-dense whole, a process which sometimes results in phantom limbs or displaced body-parts, literalizing the displacement of the depicted people in the formal qualities of each image.

Richard Mosse, Ultra

September 12 – November 2, 2019
Altman Siegel Gallery
1150 25th Street
San Francisco, CA 94107


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