Article originally posted by James Pomerantz on The New Yorker
Everybody makes mistakes; some people make beautiful ones.
While many photographers work in challenging locations, few do so lugging an 8x10 large-format camera and the requisite accoutrement. Richard Mosse has kindly taken a few moments from his back-breaking photographic adventures to share the story behind his favorite mistake.
My two-month jaunt in the Democratic Republic of Congo earlier this year was made in vain, evaporating into a sea of double-exposed 8x10 inch landscapes. This single mistake cost me a hundred precious sheets of this discontinued infrared film stock once used for military reconnaissance but now some of the last in existence. I knew I’d made a grievous error after returning across front lines from rebel territory only to discover that both boxes of film seemed to be mislabeled. “This one says that it’s exposed but I distinctly remember it being unexposed. And this one says that it’s unexposed, but I feel that’s not the case. Well,” I realized, “I have a fifty-per-cent chance of it working out.”
You might just be able to discern the crater of a volcano at the center of the image. A bank of heavy black cloud obscures the view to the right of the crater, occluding a patchwork of cultivated fields from the second landscape. These two extraordinary landscapes show sites of tragic conflict. Superimposed, they multiply into a vertiginous and irresolvable world. After a week of tremendous self-loathing and long walks on the gray streets of Manhattan, I decided that I must simply return to Congo and reshoot everything. As Sam Beckett once said, “Try again, fail again, fail better.”
For me, this image stands at a particular threshold in my life and work, leading to further journeys in eastern Congo. They have been as exhausting and problematic as the ones before, but continue to elaborate relentlessly within my dreams and imagination. It is curious, the things that lead us to commit to certain places, but the important thing is that we do.
Mosse’s print, “Débris,” will be available in an edition of thirty from Aperture Foundation. Last year, Whitney Johnson took a look at Mosse’s infrared (and single-exposed) photographs from eastern Congo; from November 17th to December 23rd, his series “Infra” will be on view at Jack Shainman Gallery, the monograph of which is being published by Aperture Foundation and the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.