Monday, September 21, 2009

Richard Mosse's Breach

Richard Mosse's series Breach is an investigation of Saddam Hussein's former imperial palaces in their converted state as temporary housing facilities for the U.S. military. The always insightful BLDGBLOG conducted a wonderful interview with Mosse earlier this year regarding his time in Iraq. The excerpt below was taken from their exchange:

BLDGBLOG: The way these structures have been colonized is often amusing and sometimes shocking—the telephones, desks, and instant dormitories that turn an imperial palace into what looks like a suburban office or hospital waiting room. Can you describe some of the spatial details of these soldiers' lives that most struck you?

Mosse: It was extraordinary how some of the palace interiors had been transformed to accommodate the soldiers. Troops scurried beneath vaulted ceilings and glittering faux-crystal chandeliers. Lofty marble columns towered over rat runs between hastily constructed chipboard cubicles. Obama's face beamed out of televisions overlooking the freezers and microwaves of provisional canteen spaces.

Many of the palaces have already been handed back to the Iraqis—but where Americans troops do remain, they live in very cramped conditions, pissing into a hole in the ground and waiting days just to shower. Life is hard on the front line, and it seems more than a little surreal to be ticking off the days in a dictator's pleasure dome.

The most interesting thing about the whole endeavor for me was the very fact that the U.S. had chosen to occupy Saddam's palaces in the first place. If you're trying to convince a population that you have liberated them from a terrible dictator, why would you then sit in his throne? A savvier place to station the garrison would have been a place free from associations with Saddam, and the terror and injustices that the occupying forces were convinced they'd done away with. Instead, they made the mistake of repeating history.

This is why I've titled this body of work Breach. "Breach" is a military maneuver in which the walls of a fortification (or palace) are broken through. But breach also carries the sense of replacement—as in, stepping into the breach. The U.S. stepped into the breach that it had created, replacing the very thing that it sought to destroy.

There are other kinds of breach—such as a breach of faith, a breach of confidence, or the breach of a whale rising above water for air. All of these senses were important to me while working on these photographs.

"Saddam's heads, taken from the roof of the Republican Guard Palace, now located at Al-Salam Palace, FOB Prosperity, Baghdad, Iraq 2009"
© Richard Mosse

"Uday's Palace, Jebel Makhoul, Iraq 2009"
© Richard Mosse

"Birthday Palace Interior, showing dormitories built by American GIs inside Saddam's Palace architecture, Tikrit, Iraq 2009"
© Richard Mosse

"Birthday Palace, Tikrit, Iraq 2009"
© Richard Mosse

"Saddam Mural, Camp Speicher, Tikrit, Iraq 2009"
© Richard Mosse