Richard Mosse Interview: Kodak Aerochrome in the Congo

Unless you’ve been hibernating in an Internet-free cave for the past two years, you’ve probably seen Richard Mosse’s amazing candy-colored photos from the Congo, all shot on now-discontinued Kodak Aerochrome film. Aerochrome, a false-color infrared film originally intended for aerial vegetation surveys, was discontinued in 2009, and since then has become somewhat of an underground-internet-film-phenomenon. Mosse took advantage of Aerochrome’s unnatural colors to create a unique and uncomfortable juxtaposition with his subject matter, resulting in vibrant yet haunting photographs.

ISSF sits down with Mosse to get the details on handling film on-location, ultra-high quality scanning and why Aerochrome of all films:

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 {Above: Men Of Good Fortune, North Kivu, Eastern Congo, 2011}

Why do you choose to shoot film?

I shoot film over digital because I prefer to print very large prints (6x8 feet and bigger). Digital seems to print very poorly above 100% of the image size, in my experience. Film’s grain structure naturally enlarges in a more pleasing way. I also prefer how film describes tone in a non-synthetic way. It’s a lot more work, but worth the effort.

How do you deal with transporting, changing, and storing film on location?


It can be a real drag. I always ask the airport staff to do a manual check, and bring a changing tent and cotton gloves with me so that the security people can open boxes without exposing film. I load my film on location in a film changing tent, sometimes in the middle of everything, while things are going on around me. The film that I’ve been shooting for the last three years, Kodak Aerochrome, is critically heat sensitive and will expire after just seven days at room temperature. I have to keep it cold at all times, carrying it through Congo in beer coolers, and have to find a freezer wherever I go. As you can imagine, that’s a serious task in a sub-Saharan war zone.

Who develops and prints your film?


LTI lab for processing and Laumont for scanning and printing, both in NYC.

How do you scan your film?


I bought an old Howtek HR8000 on ebay with which I run my own drum scans. When I decide which images to print for an exhibition, I then ask my lab, Laumont, to rescan on their Isomet, which is a very old school 8-bit scanner that provides marvellously smooth scans. The scanner’s lens must be manually focused, which is quite unique for a drum scanner.

Kodak Aerochrome is an interesting choice for reportage photography in the Congo. What motivated you to shoot with it?


I was motivated to use this particular film when Kodak announced that they were going to discontinue the stock in 2009. I realised it was my last opportunity to work with this unusual medium. I decided to bring it to Congo for a number of reasons, one of which was the fact that it seemed inappropriate and made me feel slightly uncomfortable. That’s always a good place to go as an artist. 

Can you name a few of the major publications & galleries that have published or exhibited your work shot on film?


Aperture Foundation, Frieze, Modern Painters, Art in America, NY Times,  Jack Shainman Gallery, the 55th Venice Biennale.

Lastly, do you have any advice for young photographers considering shooting film professionally?


Don’t be intimated, it’s a very forgiving medium, especially when you shoot negative.

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General Février, North Kivu, Eastern Congo, 2010

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Taking Tiger Mountain, North Kivu, Eastern Congo, 2011

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Untitled XVII, North Kivu, Eastern Congo, 2011

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Nowhere To Run, South Kivu, Eastern Congo, 2010

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Growing Up In Public, North Kivu, Eastern Congo, 2011

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Come Out (1966), North Kivu, Eastern Congo, 2011

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Tutsi Town, North Kivu, Eastern Congo, 2010

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Colonel Soleil’s Boys, North Kivu, Eastern Congo, 2010

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Another Green World, Kisangani to Bukavu, Eastern Congo, 2010

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Better The Devil You Know, North Kivu, Eastern Congo, 2010

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The Blue Mask, Lake Kivu, Eastern Congo, 2010

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La Vie En Rose, North Kivu, Eastern Congo, 2010

More on Richard Mosse’s work:

Website: www.richardmosse.com

Representation: Jack Shainman Gallery

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