|Luc Delahaye, Baghdad IV, 2005|
|Ambush, Ramadi, 2006|
There are a couple of photographs that I really liked: Ambush, Ramadi, 2006 shows in the hazy distance surrounded by a sky filled with the dust of debris, a US marine patrol ambushed by insurgents in Ramadi, Iraq following the explosion of an IED. The photograph is suggestive of the fallout of war, and its subtlety comes in its suggestion, failing to show what is really happening, while the disturbing nature of what is really happening becomes caught in and behind the dirt. I also liked Les Bois de Calais, 2007, a photograph in which illegal immigrants apparently return to their shack in the woods near Calais. This image appeals because it is anonymous: we don’t know who they are, what they are doing there, and the hints of Calais in the background could be anywhere in the industrial world. The image captures the alienation and the clandestine, stigmatized nature of life as an immigrant in France as the two workers walk, surrounded by dirt, mud, in a landscape not made for people. Others such as Karni Crossing Demo, 2008 of a demonstration against the Israeli blockade of Gaza are less convincing because they seem to lack ambiguity.
Luc Delahaye, Man Sleeping, 2008
It is not only the content, but the huge (sometimes 300 cm x 150 cm) dimensions, the glossy surface, the pristine glass behind which these images sit and the clean white walls on which they hang, that robs them of sentiment and power. Their presentation creates out of them one big spectacle with no enigma, packaged and sold for the boutique gallery in the Marais.
Much of the celebration of Delahaye’s work has been for its difference from photo-reportage, mainly because of his process of not taking hundreds of photographs, preferring to take one or two as would an artist, his manipulation of the image to create impact, and so on. And the blurbs always announce that he takes photographs from previously unrevealed perspectives, thus opening our eyes to a darker side of war. But for me, neither of these is enough to elevate Delahaye’s photojournalism to the status of “ambiguous and provocative art.” That said, more reputable art critics than me have praised this work. Michael Fried for example compares it to the profound works of Jeff Wall, and Andreas Gursky. So because I don’t see the deeper connections, does not mean they are not there. I did come away disappointed, but nevertheless, open to the idea that I might need to see Delahaye’s work more appropriately hung, together with his more devastating images, if I am to recognize its invitation to my own participation, if I am to experience the tension where at the moment, there is a cold detachment from the scene of the crime.