Witchcraft, loneliness, and missing women in Jessica Hauser’s devastating Hotel (2004)

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Hausner returns to the ‘direct shot’ its sense of framelessness, a formal rigour that has the space, the subject matter, invade ours. This is significant in Hotel because it is a latent sense of what has and will happen in the space that constitutes its subject matter, which all bears on that which is photographed as present. What we see is only ever a vehicle for some currently unknown or recently forgotten presence that will soon reveal itself, like a parasite or like time. The human figure is both seen too late, and brought back as already missing, bracing and still only anticipatory, loaded with fate but preserved against meeting it. This tension is sustained in Hausner’s formalism and the soft compression of her digital cameras which dissolve the directorial interface and make the images feel really occurring. All of which reminds of the oft-cited claim by Benjamin that Atget photographed the city like a crime scene, a suspended past open to a forensics of imagining. She’s already gone and should never have arrived: in every sense Irene shouldn’t be here.

Hotel is cold, but Hausner’s is that painful, compassionate emptiness that recognises itself before Irene does. Her small victories, those moments where she understands the systems that define her workflow and even feels as though she knows who’s going to call and when, are aching. The less access we have to her inner doubts, the more she physically inhabits the space established by the camera to have already absorbed and forgotten her. Eschewing the idea of the young woman abducted by cosmic conspiracy, Irene seems to have wandered into an opaque network of threads that nobody thought to warn her about and which she is in no position to forestall: ghosts, murder, magic. The outdoor light beams out to the forest, revealing only the first row whose black spaces we fill with unseen trees and cries. Hausner knows this is the limit of the image, and the rest is everything we carry with us. Nothing is more frightening than loneliness.

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