Off the Wall: Heat Maps

By Emily Conklin, Staff Writer

In today’s vernacular, the title “Syrian refugee” is a tight package of language, used to efficiently describe a mass of displaced human beings: a title capable of neatly grouping a people to allow for rationalization of empathy over cups of coffee in cafes. The “Syrian Refugee Crisis” has become a branded phenomenon that many empathize with, but that few understand.

Richard Mosse, an Irish photographer now based in New York, addresses this inadvertent tendency to clinically label a population in today’s harsh and unforgiving political climate with his work “Heat Maps.” Using a military-grade infrared surveillance camera, he photographs various Syrian refugee camp sites from high ground utilizing a robotic tripod, scanning the swaths of blight and piecing together almost 1,000 individual frames to create expansive panoramic images with astounding detail.

Chilling, yes. To be watched through a infrared camera from afar is an uncomfortable thought. Mosse’s photographs do not attempt to strip the camera of its sinister context, however. Rather, this context tells a raw narrative. From the white-hot outlines of small children’s bodies playing soccer to juxtapositions of freight train cargo alongside the cubic refugee residential architecture, Mosse’s lens shows us what we cannot, or maybe do not, want to see. Human beings, surviving and persevering against the hostile responses of the modern world.

Military infrared often blurs out facial features and expressions into a nondescript smudge. But still, the life leaks through the photograph if one looks closely enough.

These white-hot smudges inhabit spaces between elevated highways, abandoned sports stadiums and freight train yards. The images on the gallery walls illuminate themes of ephemerality, movement, resiliency and constant danger. Shuttled around the modern world’s railways, rivers and highways like unsold goods, the feeling of being so close yet so far is palpable through the grayscale imagery. Amidst the huts, the concrete and the chaos, humans are surviving, yet wary of the gunman’s surveillance camera hidden among the hills.

“Heat Maps” can be viewed through March 11, 2017 at the Jack Shainman Gallery located at 513 West 20th Street. Admission is free.

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