Irish photographer Richard Mosse has been awarded this year’s $100,000 Prix Pictet prize for “Heat Map,” 2016–17, a series of panoramic photos of refugee camps in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. He captured the images with a high-tech military surveillance camera designed to detect people’s body heat, which is classified as a weapon by the International Traffic in Arms Regulations.
According to Mosse, the images fuse biology and politics, and the camera is a “technology of governance.” He said, “The camera translates the world into a heat signature of relative temperature difference, literally reading the biological trace of human life, imperceptive to skin color. Instead of individuals, it sees the mass . . . It elicits a sinister and invasive form of imagery, but also occasionally intimate, tending to both dehumanize and then rehumanize the ‘bare life’ (Giorgio Agamben) of the human figure of the stateless refugee and illegal economic migrant, which the camera was specifically designed to detect, monitor, and police.”
Kofi Annan, the former secretary general of the United Nations and the president of the prize, announced the winner at the Victoria and Albert Museum on Thursday. An exhibition of works by the short-listed artists—Sergey Ponomarev, Sohei Nishino, Rinko Kawauchi, Thomas Ruff, and Munem Wasif—will be on view at the institution until May 28. Responding to the theme of space, the finalists’ work ranged from Michael Wolf’s images of Tokyo commuters crammed into the subway to Rinko Kawauchi’s photos of controlled agricultural field burning, an annual event which takes place in southern Japan. Chaired by Wang Shu, the jury comprised David King, Martin Barnes, Valérie Belin, Philippe Bertherat, Jan Dalley, Dambisa Moyo, and Sebastião Salgado
Born in Ireland in 1980, Mosse earned his master’s degree in photography from Yale University in 2008. His works have been featured in exhibitions at the Venice Biennale, the Louisiana Museum of Contemporary Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, the Irish Museum of Modern Art, the Bass Museum, the Palais de Tokyo, FOAM Amsterdam, and Kunsthalle Munich, among others. Mosse has been the recipient of many honors, including the Deutsche Boerse Photography Prize in 2014, Yale’s Poynter Fellowship in Journalism in 2013, and a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2011.