Devastation in the Amazon rainforest and the climate change it triggers tend to unfold in ways that are too vast to comprehend, too minute to perceive, and too normalised to see. In an attempt to render the scale and urgency of the Amazon’s extensive, impending collapse, Richard Mosse’s most ambitious work to date employs a dazzling array of photographic techniques.
Broken Spectre is an immersive, 74-minute film that shifts between a manifold of ecological narratives, from the topographic to the anthropocentric, and to a careful examination of nonhuman violence and survival. Mosse and his team spent years documenting different fronts of destruction, degradation and environmental crimes in the Amazon Basin and related eco-systems.
Broken Spectre operates on multiple scales: inky, fluorescent microscopic imagery describes the interdependent complexity of the Amazonian biome in scientific detail, while cinematic monochrome infrared scenes track illegal mining, logging and burning, industrial agriculture and indigenous activism.
Meanwhile, airborne multispectral footage starkly renders vast swathes of empty land in contrast to the lush rainforest, showing the vast scale and systematic organisation of the Amazon’s destruction.
In accompanying photographic works, Mosse renders the invisible visible: through multispectral cameras that emulate satellite imaging technology, alongside ultraviolet botanical studies, and heat-sensitive analogue film warped, mottled and degraded by the oppressive environment and by the burning forest itself. Accompanying these experimental documentary works are Mosse’s hypnotically vivid aerial maps, which zoom out and colourise the scale and extent of natural decimation in piercing detail, employing specially-made Geographic Information System (GIS) imaging technology.
As climate change continues to define our era and the future of the planet, Mosse bears witness to a rapidly unfolding catastrophe: recent scientific studies predict that the Amazon is close to reaching a tipping point, at which stage it will no longer be able to generate rain, triggering mass forest dieback and carbon release at devastating levels, impacting climate change, biodiversity, and local and international communities. Mosse shows both human sides of the tragedy: from the Yanomami and Munduruku Indigenous communities fighting for survival; to illegal gold miners poisoning and destroying entire river systems for tiny handfuls of gold; alongside Brazilian cowboys wilfully burning their pristine surroundings to create pasture for cattle to sell on international meat and leather markets.
Created from 2018 to 2022, Broken Spectre is published ahead of gravely significant general elections in Brazil, in which Jair Bolsanaro’s victory may seal the destruction of the irreplaceable Amazon forever. Bolsonaro and his executive stripped Brazil’s environmental protection agencies and opened the floodgates of deforestation, exponentially accelerating the Amazon’s destruction. His government’s destructive legacy lives on and will be very difficult to reverse.
Broken Spectre is also exhibited at 180 Studios, London, 12 October – 18 December 2022; the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia, 30 September 2022 – 23 April 2023; and the Converge 45 Biennial, opening 24 August 2023 in Portland, Oregon.