The Palestine Hotel 2003 is a large-scale colour photograph measuring almost two and a half metres across. It was taken in Baghdad, Iraq, during the invasion of the city by US armed forces in 2003, and depicts the Palestine Hotel, an eighteen-storey hotel favoured by journalists and the media. Delahaye photographed the hotel several days after a controversial incident that took place on 8 April 2003, when an American tank fired a shell at the building, killing two journalists and wounding three more. The distanced, high-up perspective and rich detail in the picture seem to invite the viewer to search for physical evidence of these recent turbulent events.
The photograph forms part of Delahaye’s History series, started in 2001, large-scale photographs which depict recent world events and sites of historical importance – ranging from political demonstrations and rallies to war and natural disasters – offering a different perspective from the often sensational pictures used by the media for television and newspaper coverage. Other works from this series in Tate’s collection are US Bombing on Taliban Positions c.2001 (Tate P15404) and Jenin Refugee Camp 2002 (Tate P15405). Though he photographed sites of historical and political significance in this series, Delahaye’s images reveal the ordinary or mundane details of extraordinary scenes.
In an interview with historian Mariana Mogilevich, Delahaye discussed his approach to photographing scenes of war and destruction:
At the very least I want to give people a chance to see how war is. Because I am trying to give space to the pictures, to record as many things as is reasonably possible. I am using a large format camera, doing large prints and stepping back, not trying to get too close and not trying to make easy pictures with stupid sentimentality.
(Quoted in ‘Luc Delahaye Photographs: History’, online at absolutearts.com, http://www.absolutearts.com/artsnews/2004/11/08/32512.html, accessed 22 March 2018.)
Delahaye began his career as a photojournalist in the 1980s when he was sent to Beirut by the SIPA press agency. In 1994 he joined Magnum Photos and later Newsweek magazine. Delahaye photographed conflicts in Romania, Haiti, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Yugoslavia and Rwanda before deciding to turn away from war photography, considering himself an artist instead and asking himself the question, ‘What is a camera exactly? What happens when the shutter fires?’ The History series is one of his best known bodies of work. Writing about Delahaye’s approach in these photographs, Tom E. Hinson, curator of photography at The Cleveland Museum of Art, Ohio, wrote: ‘He allows the viewer to see, think about and remember these images in a different way. Delahaye’s distanced and all-encompassing panoramic views have a power, solemnity and scale reminiscent of the French 19th-century history paintings he admires in the Louvre in Paris.’ (Ibid.)
Luc Delayahe, History, London 2003.
John Roberts, ‘Photography after the Photograph: Event, Archive and the Non-Symbolic’, Oxford Art Journal, vol.32, no.2, 2009.
Sean O’Hagan, ‘Luc Delahaye Turns War Photography into an Uncomfortable Art’, The Guardian, 9 August 2011, https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2011/aug/09/luc-delahaye-war-photography-art, accessed March 2018.
August 2010, updated March 2018
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