Sunday, January 11, 2015

Luc Delahaye @ Galerie Nathalie Obadia

Luc Delahaye, House to House, 2011
I have never really understood the excitement over Luc Delahaye’s photographs. However, because they are so celebrated, particularly in France, I persist in believing the critics and doubting my own judgments. I went back to Galerie Nathalie Obadia to see his exhibition of recent works in the hope that this time they would reveal to me what I seem to have missed in the past.
Luc Delahaye, Death of a Mercenary, 2011
This set of “ten works produced since 2011” apparently represents a shift in his oeuvre, a shift from the theatre of war to the everyday in the developing world. As always, I found the photographs aesthetically compelling. The oversized C-prints continue to delight, and because Delahaye’s journeys take him to India and Libya the colours are as dazzling as the curious compositional framings. We see two boys fighting in an abandoned—or maybe it was never inhabited—nowhere-land, a father and his young daughter in conversation, a man talking to himself, and another entering a sundrenched building. The gallery flyer claims that the images revolve “around the dialectical interplay of false opposites: distant-present, archetypal-particular, beautiful-cruel, manifest-enigmatic” and that these opposites hide an inherent tension.
Luc Delahaye, Father and Daughter, 2013
My problem with Delahaye’s work is that I don’t see the tension. on reading an earlier blog, I am reminded that when I saw his work four years ago at the same gallery, I was already missing the tensions. And they don’t seem to have emerged, at least not to my eye, in those four years. I see poverty, I see actions that might be read as ambiguous, I see snapshots taken from their narrative context which might prompt us to ask what happens before and after the moment we are given. But I don’t see tension.

Luc Delahaye, Boys Fighting, 2013
The documentary aesthetic of these photographs is even stronger than it was in Delahaye’s war photography, despite the fact that a number of those on current display were apparently staged and manipulated. But still, I am left unsure of what exactly Delahaye is documenting: is it poverty? The developing world? Libya in peacetime? That said, images such as Death of a Mercenary and House to House, even Talking to Himself have a distinctly Jeff Wall-like feel to them. So perhaps, like Wall, Delahaye is looking for the above mentioned “false opposites” and doesn’t manage to find them in the everyday realities that he documents.

Once again, I came away disappointed. However, what I have learnt by visiting this (very badly lit) exhibition, is that I rest in my convictions about the underwhelm of Delahaye’s photography.  

Images courtesy the artist

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