We are happy to announce publication in Membrana – Journal of Photography, Theory and Visual Culture of a new article on the photography of Richard Mosse, written together with Rune Saugmann. The piece, designed for the journal’s Skin issue, is now available online.
Titled “The Photographic Disappearance and Reappearance of Skin Color,” our article reflects upon the seeming disappearance of skin color from Mosse’s photography in his work on migration, Incoming and Heat Maps, resulting from Mosse’s specific camera equipment, a military-grade thermal camera that records body heat rather than color: a color-blind camera in racialized politics.
For us, skin color is central in this work despite, or because of, its (seeming) disappearance. With the disappearance of skin color, whiteness loses the negative reference point against which it routinely and often tacitly defines itself and from which it defines its hegemonic position: if each and every person appears white, then whiteness faces irrelevance as a distinguishing and legitimacy-providing criteria.
The disappearance of its negative reference point requires whiteness to reflect upon itself, define itself explicitly, and explore its meanings and politics. In the process of such reflection, skin color reappears – not photorealistically but imaginatively: we can escape neither from facing our own subject positions nor from reflecting on how we easily distinguish and attribute whiteness and non-whiteness even where it is deliberately made absent. Mosse’s work, thus, reappears what only seems to have disappeared.
Invisibility, then, does not remove whiteness from representation; rather, it is a specific way of representing whiteness. The space of invisibility is a space where whiteness can confront itself.