Making Hotel Motel 101 | Lost Collective
This is going to be a long one. Hotel Motel 101 was somewhat of the black sheep of Lost Collective. Everything else I’ve shot since 2011 is either abandoned or generally has some kind of historical significance (with the exception of my Landscapes).
Hotel Motel 101 came together faster than any other Lost Collective project I’ve worked on. It felt like the easiest as well even though realistically, it covered more kilometres and involved more work than any other gallery, it was just that creative flow in effect. Sometimes it comes sometimes it goes, but for these few weeks I was in the midst of it and I had all the time in the world, so I just rode it while I could.
I think a lot of people who have been following me for a while now are probably wondering what motivated me to create this collection. So, I thought I’d go through some of my inspirations, thought processes and learnings behind Hotel Motel 101 .
I’d had the idea to do a photography project with motels for some time. I can’t quite put my finger on where it began, but one recurring idea that has always been at the core of most of what I do is turning a seemingly mundane and boring scene into something you want to pay attention to. The bleaker, the better. So in that respect, it’s easy to see how a subject like motels would fit the brief.
I had this grand vision in my head that I was going to build a collection of motel signs, each one resembling something along the lines of the Holiday Inn Great Sign, which admittedly I didn’t even know existed before this collection, consciously at least anyway. When you look at it below, it somehow seems familiar doesn’t it?
Apart from the two beauties below, these kinds of signs, or anything even remotely resembling them, are rare in Australia in 2018.
Most of the road signs I found resemble something along the lines of the one below. I photographed this one from the first motel I visited of the entire series, but from this, I realised that this was going to add a lot of time for little benefit to what I was hoping to achieve.
It was at this point I decided what the series was going to look like, that being motel rooms themselves, shot directly front on.
The show follows two FBI agents who travel across the US in the late 1970s, staying in these all too familiar motels which somehow still look so recognisable almost 40 years later. The cinematography of the show makes you (well me anyway) somehow want to stay in a motel.
Watching Mindhunter was the catalyst for the creation of Hotel Motel 101. It’s what made me say “Alight! I am going to do this. I am going to make a collection of motels”.
It all started with a search on Google Maps for ‘motel’; then I made a list of every single one I could see from the beginning of the Hume Highway in Ashfield, to Casula.
Initially, the list was less than half a page long, I didn’t know how far I was going to go with this, and in all honesty, after the first night, I was questioning whether there really was even anything in this project worth pursuing. But not long after that first night, the list grew from half a page to almost four pages, roughly following runs from the Inner-West to South Western Sydney, the Blue Mountains, Central Coast, The Southern Highlands and the Illawarra.
Our newborn son Jasper was less than one-month-old at the time of the first night I went out to start shooting this collection, and less than two months by the time the entire project had finished. We weren’t getting much sleep during the night, so I did what any good husband/father/sane person would do and decided to get out and be productive.
I had just purchased a new Nikon D850 which I hadn’t really had the chance to put through its paces so, in making this collection, it was also a chance to get to know my new camera.
I never really do much night photography, I’m not sure why, because I love it. I love the results it produces and there’s just something about being out at night time creating that spurs me on. Maybe it’s that change of routine in doing something completely different.
I wanted to try out a few other ideas I’d been sitting on for a while. That being a field light at night with a faint haze of light illuminating the air. And I managed to find this in the process of making Hotel Motel 101. I titled the image Nightlight .
I had this idea in my head ever since our trip to Japan in 2016, when one of our hosts showed me a photo book by his friend Dan Holdsworth . It contained one of his works titled Megalith . Admittedly mine is nothing like Dans but it is 100% the inspiration behind this photo and side by side, it’s not that hard to see where the similarities lie.
The second idea I had been thinking about was a lonely phone box at night. I really wanted to convey a sense of isolation in the image, and I think I found that when photographing the Lithgow Valley Motel . A photo titled, wait for it… Phone Booth .
The very first motel I photographed for Hotel Motel 101 was the Town & Country Motel in Strathfield. There was, in fact, two motels I had visited before this which were closer to my starting point on the Hume Highway, but there was just too many people around sitting outside their rooms smoking, drinking and what not. I can’t exactly pull out all my gear and set up a tripod in the middle of a motel carpark, direct it and someone’s room and start taking photos. So, I had to skip these motels at first and come back later at night.
This became a regular issue from the onset of the project and is the main reason why I ended up staying out so late taking photos, because I had to start late to find that happy medium where everyone was retired for the night, but the motel lights were still on, illuminated curtains made great shots. On average, I would stay out until about 3:00 AM shooting.
The two images below were taken at the Town & Country Motel. The first of any that I photographed someone drove into the carpark towards the end of the shot. I got spooked and grabbed the tripod mid-exposure, and this is the result.
The proper photo turned out like this.
Something that I’ve come to understand in the process of creating this collection is just how common it is for motels to be used as long term accommodation. The first night I went out shooting, it was evident that many had long-term tenants. Little giveaways like decorations in a room that would typically be reserved for home, like flags and posters. Mismatched furniture or household items out the front of rooms. Take Appin Motel for example –
Motels are also used as emergency accommodation for society’s most vulnerable by government agencies such as Housing NSW or the Department of Community Services. People might be fleeing domestic violence, or facing homelessness, dealing with substance abuse or other desperate situations including parolees. The NSW government spent $100 million on hotel rooms from 2000 to 2012 alone.
It’s an extremely complicated issue that probably stems from lack of foresight and willingness to address the problem over decades by successive governments.
Typically, motels that have long-term guests have a less welcoming appearance than ones whose primary guests are tourists or people on business, but I think it really hit home when I visited The Grandstand in Warwick Farm, arguably Australia’s worst hotel.
Here’s a look from the side during the day in case the last one wasn’t convincing enough.
Take note of the half day rate, although I can confirm the sign is outdated and a half day will now set you back $60.
The owner also owns the Fontainebleau not far down the road. Also used for emergency accommodation.
It’s hard not to look at the situation from the outside and get the sense that we are failing as a society when the best we can do is put people who are in these situations, including children, in motels, where they experience further traumatisation, and expect them to get back on their feet at a cost of tens of thousands of dollars a day. They don’t even have a kitchen in a motel room. They would be lucky to have a bar fridge in some. I’m not claiming to have the answers, but surely we can do better than this.
The Addison Project is a hotel in Kensington, Sydney which is set to be redeveloped, but in the interim, the developer has teamed up with a number of organisations to provide 42 fully-furnished rooms, each with their own bathroom and kitchenette, revenue-free for homeless youth.
Something like the Addison Project, while still not a solution, certainly seems like a much better option that benefits the owner of a motel more than anyone else involved.
OzHarvest has set up a ‘take what you need, pay what you can’ supermarket in the lobby, only stocking rescued food.
Clothing rescue service, Thread Together , operates next to the hotel and provides brand new clothing.
Orange Sky Laundry , the world’s first mobile laundry service, will visit The Addison once a week to offer its free services.
This is a wonderful initiative making a difference and given there is no shortage of buildings in Sydney currently awaiting redevelopment, it would be great to see more of this kind of thing by those who are able to make it possible.
There are some motels with long-term tenants who are actually helping people rather than trying to make a buck off the government, but I think these last couple of examples were worth calling out.
My favourite motel was Thirroul Beach Motel . It was also the only exception to the rule I set of not coming back for a better shot when fewer cars were around. The night that I took the first photo, it was a Friday, and all of the parking spaces were full, and I couldn’t get a full span of both levels with multiple doors and windows without cutting half off the height of one of the levels.
The different pastel coloured doors on the red brick walls were such an attractive feature of this motel, I thought. So, I felt compelled to come back midweek in the hope there’d be fewer guests, and the parking spaces would be empty. Luckily, the second time around there was only a couple of cars at the far end of the building. As a bonus, the night sky was clear and full of stars, as opposed to overcast on the night of the first visit, which I think helped to make this shot my favourite. I think this is the most appealing of all the motels I visited.
I had no idea until after I’d posted the image to Facebook and Instagram and people started commenting that it was the motel that Brett Whiteley died of a heroin overdose in 1992, which was kind of a sad realisation. The room, number four, appears in the photo.
Hotel Motel 101 was picked up by a number of publishers, and subsequently, I have covered quite a lot of this already. I had meant to do blog posts for these, but I figured that there isn’t really any point having half a dozen posts about the same thing, so instead, I decided to compile them all together here.