December 14: Infra

14December 14: I do tend to associate infrared photography camera clubs. However the anniversary today of the death in New York of Walter Clark in 1991 (born November 9, 1899 in Hendon, England) prompts me to reassess my prejudice.

temp.gifSir William Herschel discovered the infrared region of the spectrum in 1800 with a simple  experiment in which he projected the spectrum from a prism over an array of thermometers in order to test the temperature of each colour. He placed one thermometer outside the projected spectrum just at the edge of the red end. He found that this thermometer returned a markedly higher temperature than the ones under the visible colours. This led him to conclude that there was a further ‘colour’ outside the visible spectrum that was infra- (or ‘below’) red.

He had discovered a new form of electromagnetic radiation. This finding also had implications for the human sight sense and the nature of light (there are forms of light we cannot see).

Infrared photography has advantages; the film can record what the eye cannot see (permitting, for instance, photography in the dark); many materials reflect and transmit infrared radiation in a different manner than visible radiation (light); infrared radiation penetrates atmospheric haze so that photographs can be taken of distant objects that cannot be seen or photographed on normal films; and it has the ability to photograph hot objects by the long- wavelength radiation that they emit.

The first intentional utilization of infrared in photography occurred in astronomy. In the late 1870s Captain William Abney photographed up to the 1,000 nm wavelength and published a map of the infrared region of the solar spectrum ranging from 716 nm (visible red) to 1,000 nm (near infrared). He thus visualised the invisible, using numbers corresponding with minutes of exposure to identify colours.

Robert W. Wood (1910) first infrared photographs of landscape.

In October 1910 Robert Williams Wood (1868–1955) published the first infrared photographs, taken that year on experimental film, though it required lengthy exposure and so was limited to landscapes.

This was made possible by the inclusion of sensitising dyes, especially kryptocyanine, in the emulsions he was using, on the same principle that they were used to overcome the oversensitivity of orthochromatic emulsion to blue and to produce tones which appear more natural for the colours we see. Absorption by the dye of radiant energy at a wavelength that would not normally affect the silver halide transfers “exposure” energy to the silver halide. In 1912 he was the first to take infrared photographs of the Moon, then in 1916 of Jupiter and Saturn.

George Eastman’s Kodak Company merged in 1912 with Wratten & Wainwright and appointed Dr. Mees, a former Wratten director, to act as the head of Kodak Research Laboratories to produce improved plates for spectroscopic and astronomical work,  enhancing sensitivity and speed. World War I accelerated development of infrared sensitised emulsions because of the military advantage of being able to cut though atmospheric haze in mapping terrain and identifying targets, including individuals wearing camouflage..

Walter Clark worked for Eastman Kodak and released two editions of his Infrared Photography, in 1939 and 1946 gleaned from the firm’s discoveries and from science publications of the then current findings. His own research paper had appeared in the Journal of the Biological Photographic Association in 1934, in which he described some of the earliest infrared photography which he illustrated with examples of a landscape, a macrophotograph of a fly’s head, and the first photo of human face at this wavelength.

His books reviewed the sensitization of emulsions for infrared then discussed cameras, lenses and filtration. It was the applications of infrared in medicine, especially dermatology and phlebology, forensic science and paleontology, that were received with excitement by these branches of the scientific community; he hypothesized that lumps in the breast could be made visible with infrared photography; cited examples of photographs that distinguished between dead skin and living skin with lupus nodules; and  noted that skin reflected infrared, appearing chalky, that red lips were recorded light and that some lines of the face were exaggerated.

Kodak’s false colour infrared film made chlorophyll appear magenta and blood green.

During World War II the Kodak research considered the possibility of combining IR-characteristics with colour contrasts. D.A. Spencer and A. Marriage at Kodak in London thought up a two-colour separation camera on the Technicolor principle and this was taken up by the Kodak Research Laboratories in the US by Mannes, Jelly, Wilder, Copstaff and Clark who advanced this to a multiple layer colour film, in which one layer should be infrared-sensitive. They quickly released it to the US Air Forces as Kodacolor Aero-Reversal-Film for camouflage recognition. Ektachrome Professional Infrared EIR film was developed from this and made commercially available after the War.

Civilian photography enthusiasts seized upon the release of monochrome infrared emulsions in the mid-1930s when suitable film was introduced commercially by five manufacturers including Agfa, Kodak and Ilford. The curiosity value was such that the Times in the UK regularly published their staff photographers’ shots taken with Ilford infrared film. In motion pictures, day-for-night scenes such as those in The Bride Came COD (1941), were found to be more convincing if made on black-and-white infra-red…

The Bride Came COD (1941) ‘day-for-night’ scene.The technology thus had both sinister and benign applications.

…while the film was showing, Weegee’s famous 1940s movie theatre shots were made with IR flashbulbs as he made his way up and down the aisles disguised as an ice cream vendor.


Irish photographer’s Richard Mosse’s photojournalism transgresses the genre with his uncomfortably beautiful records of tragedy, war and destruction. His 2011 series Infra captured fighting between rebels and the Congolese national army in the Democratic Republic of Congo. He bought up Kodak’s last supplies of Kodak Aerochrome which was discontinued in 2009. With it he captures a conflict, in which 5 million have died, that is invisible to the rest of the world who use its rare earth coltan in electronics. Tropical Congolese forest rendered in ripe pinks and inflamed reds is seductive; against it the combatants stand out, but strangely the contrast undercuts their machismo, though not the real threat they present, by immersing them in all this saccharine beauty;

I wanted to export this technology to a harder situation, to up-end the generic conventions of calcified mass-media narratives and challenge the way we’re allowed to represent this forgotten conflict… I wanted to confront this military reconnaissance technology, to use it reflexively in order to question the ways in which war photography is constructed.[Mosse, interviewed by The British Journal of Photography]

M23 rebels in Virunga National Park Rutshuru Territory, North Kivu.
An internally displaced persons camp on the outskirts of Ruby in Masisi territory, North Kivu. Disease was rife in the camp and food short because of fighting in the province.
Internally displaced people in Kanyaruchinya refugee camp, late October 2012. The camp was home to 60,000 people displaced by fighting further north between M23, FARDC and other armed groups.
Kanyaruchinya refugee camp two weeks later, after its residents had fled to another camp in the days preceding the battle for Goma
Body of a fallen FARDC soldier on the road from Goma to Rutshuru

Mosse’s work won the 2014 Deutsche Börse Photography Prize and he represented Ireland in the 2013 Venice Biennale with the The Enclave a video installation shot on 16mm infrared film.

This year he exhibited a new body of work, Heat Maps, at carlier | gebauer in Berlin September 9 to October 22. The  project discovers refugee camps in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, with an extreme telephoto, thermographic camera. Designed for the military, and embargoed for civilian use under International Traffic in Arms Regulations,  it surveys subjects from as far away as fifty kilometers in daytime or nocturnal conditions.

Richard Mosse (2016) Heat Maps
Richard Mosse (2016) Heat Maps
Richard Mosse (2016) Heat Maps

The camera registers relative temperature difference so it is effectively operating in the infrared. While normal infrared photographic techniques use radiation reflected from the subject to form images, thermography utilizes infrared radiation naturally emitted by objects at all temperatures above absolute zero using photoelectric and digital infrared receptors rather than photographic emulsions. Thermography extends the sensitivity range to wavelengths of approximately 10,000 nm (‘long-wavelength’ infrared) and is suitable even for recording heat radiations emitted by objects at 0º C. In its images human figures glow against the background, and it can detect the subjects’ state of health; whether they are in fever or hypothermic, for example, or whether they are close to death. The steep perspective simplifies, flattens and distances the refugee subject, which equates to the way the widespread, desperate flight of unprecedented numbers of people is overlooked by governments, and ignored by those in the countries to which they seek to flee. Invasive, impersonal, these views are more maps than pictures. Mosse uses the same instrument used to detect and to police this population to alert us to the dehumanisation that operates on them; his is a strategic disruption and rethinking of photojournalistic conventions.

Heat Maps will be shown at the Curve in London’s Barbican Art Gallery, opening February 2017, as well as the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, later in the year. I recommend we see it.

It provokes us to reassess our prejudices.



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