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It is one year since I first visited the Congo. On that journey, my impulse was an unravelling of forms, of method, of purpose. After a year’s reflection though, the thread is tangled up again. One year’s elaboration of my initial journey dissipates with the honest satisfaction of a heavy day’s walk across front lines into rebel territory.

We carry a generator and gasoline to power a laptop and hard drives. Trevor Tweeten has joined me on this journey to shoot digital infrared. We have repurposed a Red One video camera. Removing the optical low-pass filter from the digital sensor, the camera begins to see infrared light. Next we block the visible spectrum (red, green, blue) by placing an opaque black filter, too thick to see through, over the camera lens. This register of true infrared light gives a peculiar reading, virtually monochrome except for vague traces of an alien topography’s ghostly hue. The jungle and mountain pastures glow a sinister white against darkening skies, as if we can perceive the living soul of things.

Trevor negotiates this place exclusively through the video camera’s LCD viewfinder. He refuses to look up at the scene. “Because the camera is seeing something totally different,” he says, “I can’t trust my eyes. I can guess, but at the same time I’m more dependent on the camera to see and in this way it feels like there’s much more of a barrier between me and the space.”

The deeper we travel into the jungle, the more this blasted palette seems congruous with the confusing political landscape that we encounter here in Eastern Congo. We communicate by satellite phone with a rebel Hutu general who never surfaces. He promises to meet us in various locations, on various dates, but stands us up. We pass his paramilitaries on the muddy trails, belts of heavy ordinance hanging from their necks like ghetto pendants or the crucifixes of cardinals, regarding us suspiciously with loaded gleaming eyes.

Our documentation is mediated by unearthly forms that represent an invisible spectrum far removed from known reality. A t-shirt on a rebel soldier reads Barack Obama, but the fabric dye goes undetected in infrared and the camera records only a tattered undecorated garment. General Janvier holds up a piece of paper for the camera with the name of his rebel movement A.P.C.L.S. written clearly in heavy permanent marker. But the lens sees only an unmarked sheet of white paper.

Our project’s inflation of the documentary disorients us into a place of reflexivity and skepticism, into a place in consonance with our intangible, impenetrable, ghost-like subject.

Written April 3, 2011

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