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Hotel Motel 101

Hotel Motel 101 is a compilation of one hundred and one different roadside accommodations, photographed in the dead of night, over a period of several weeks.

Motels by nature possess repeated characteristics from place to place such as; the attached restaurant, 10 AM checkout, faded backlit road signs, drive through reception and so on. Then within motels themselves, you have repeating patterns; rows of numbered doors, planter boxes, car parking spaces, the smokers chairs and tables and even some now-obsolete hallmarks such as the old food tray hutches for meal delivery.

On paper, it would seem that every motel would look the same, and from one viewpoint they do. If you take a closer look beneath the surface of the seemingly basic facades, you begin to notice distinctly unique characteristics of each motel. Each establishment is different in its style, colour schemes, quirks and upkeep. Some appear more traditional, while others are apparently dated. Some are more modern businesses with newer architectural hardware and a more minimalist presentation. Some have a warm and inviting presence while others are colder and more utilitarian in their appearance. While each motel mostly offers the same fundamental necessities for guests, they differ significantly from one to the next in their style.

The project started by building a list of all the hotels I could find along the Hume Highway from Ashfield to Casula. Then late one Friday night, I headed out from about 8:00 PM and began photographing every hotel-motel along the way. I wanted to construct something out of everyday scenes which in themselves aren’t all that remarkable or impressive, following the concept of making the ordinary, extraordinary. I ventured out most nights, doing runs down to the New South Wales South Coast and Southern Highlands. Over the Blue Mountains towards the Central NSW tablelands and north of Sydney throughout the Central Coast villages.

The motels chosen had to be a traditional motor inn, in the sense that you could park your car in front of the rooms. Using google maps, I would make a list of motels on any main roads in the direction I was travelling that night (with the inclusion of any close by motels just off the highway).

As I arrived at each motel, I’d have a look for a fitting cross-section to capture. If there was only one vacant car space, only enough to capture the door of a single room, then I captured what was presented to me at that moment.

The condition or styling of the hotels themselves, whether they were new or old, neat or a bit run down wasn’t a factor. They just needed to meet the basic conditions that constitute of a motor inn as described earlier. Of course, I would have preferred they were all vibrant and colourful with loads of character and that 70’s styling about them but realistically, most hotels need to keep up with modern appearances and are either refurbished or more newly built.

The other source of inspiration for Hotel Motel 101 was my own connection with family summer holidays a child, visiting these classic roadside motor inns often along the east coast of Australia. A past life presumably shared by many people reading this.

It was always a time of excitement, that brief getaway, where everything was new and all those good times that were associated with a stay in a motel. Beaches, parks, dining out every night, or fish and chips on the beach.

As a child, all of the small traits and characteristics that make a motel are overlooked in the adventure and exhilaration of the new home away from home. However, as an adult (and particularly as a photographer who concentrates on decay), all these minute details stand out a little more. In fact, it is what attracted me to the idea.

As an adult, I don’t stay in motels all that often, except for work, and often alone. But, even still, there is that allure that I can’t quite put my finger on. The emotion I would have felt as a child upon opening the door to my new room is still prevailing today.

I still love a motel stay no matter how dated the accommodation is. Perhaps it’s that freedom from the responsibility of having to clean up after myself, or even having to make my bed. Maybe it’s the road trip there itself. I do love going for a drive and observing the stunning countryside we are so fortunate to have here in Australia. Perhaps it’s sense of the mini holiday, or then again, maybe it’s just the fact I find focus in solitude.

Now, as much as I love a good motel stay, there are a few in here I would give a miss. Two, in particular, I deemed unsafe to even get out of the car, and I had to return three times until it was so late at night, nobody was hovering while I was shooting.

This lead to the main reason that all the photography took place in the dead of night. In the beginning, it was just a circumstance of convenience for the time that I could get out, but as the collection formed, I soon realised it was much better when I was unnoticed. But further, I think that the darkness speaks the sense of an overnight stay. The lighting within the hotel itself and from external sources such as passing cars, street lights and even the moon presented a high degree of flexibility to tweak colours in post-processing to something much more captivating than what it resembles in real life. The darkness also adds a sense of quietness that I hoped to convey that in the images.

When you view the facade of each room, you can’t help but wonder what it resembles beyond the door, but also what stories have happened in that room. Are the lights on? Who is staying in the room? Why are they there? What are they doing? Where did they come from? What is their story?

While I’m sure at least a few past guests will recognise these motels, it’s impossible to ever create an accurate record of the history behind these walls. In some cases, maybe that is for the best. For others, perhaps that reminiscence back to good times is just something that might help brighten their day.