Qulture Shock: Tokyo Hotel Story

Posted on February 1, 2012 by


Story by Marsha Clark.

‘Tokyo Hotel Story’ is a show of photographs by world renowned photographer Nathalie Daoust and is in a word, provocative. The exhibition currently running at Gallery Connexion has attracted a large and diverse crowd, from art and photography lovers to members of the local kink community. The Rick Burns gallery is filled with dozens of large format colour photographs of beautiful Japanese women in full regalia, and surrounded by the tools of their trade as BDSM Dominatrix, including some in 3D.

Daoust spent several months living in a ‘love hotel’ in the middle of Tokyo in the city’s most famous S&M hotel, the Alpha Inn. While there, she photographed 39 women in their professional trade of Dominatrix, in full costume, in their private rooms. Love hotels as a phenomena became popular in Japan in the 1960s. Hotels offer elaborately themed rooms available for a 3 hour ‘rest’ or an overnight stay mainly for the purpose of having sex. Some hotels simply offer a private space for couples to fulfill their fantasies. The Alpha In, one of the most famous hotels in Tokyo, specializes in providing BDSM services. For a fee, a customer can hire a Mistress who specializes in Bondage and Domination or Sado/Masochism. In Japan, Mistress is a recognized trade and the women who work the hotel have undergone formal training in skills such as rope bondage, whipping techniques that leave no mark (or the opposite should the customer desire) and the cleaning and maintenance of their tools and equipment.

Every day for 4 months Daoust shot 2-3 rolls of 35mm film for each girl she interviewed. It took her nearly a year to develop and print her images in a specialty Kodak colour processing lab in Australia.  She has a long history of photographing both prostitutes and hotels, with over 50 solo shows and many group shows to her name. In her 1997 solo debut she photographed the Carleton Arms Hotel in New York City in ‘New York Hotel Story’, which was developed into a full colour coffee table book documenting the rooms of the hotel which are decorated by famous artists such as Banksy. She also spent time in a brothel in Brazil taking portraits of aging prostitutes who were fighting for recognition from the government for their right to social security, health care benefits and access to pension money.

Daoust says the 2-3 hours she spent with a Mistress was primarily to learn and talk with them about their hopes, dreams, family and living situation. Conversation was punctuated with her camera and the girls mostly posed themselves. Using long and double, even triple exposures and taking advantage of available light, Nathalie successfully conveys the atmosphere surrounding the Mistress and her work room. Special dark room and printing techniques further enhance the sense of fantasy and beauty, highlighting the hotel’s purpose of escapism via sexual adventure. The 3D portion of the show is much less ethereal and far more practical.  Here she shows the dungeons and cells available for a session with a Dominatrix.  In these rooms padded chairs with shackles, chains, rope and torture tools are freely used. No people populate these photos and the sense is that the 3D portion of the show is documentary, whereas the large colour photos of the Doms in costume is all about fantasy.

She says the reason behind this project was to satisfy her own curiosity, to debunk her prejudice toward sex workers in the BDSM trade and to continue her “exploration into female sexuality and the subversion of gender stereotypes.” When asked if she was attempting to present her subjects as empowered women breaking free of the “passive beauty” that dictates Japanese culture, she responded that the viewer must decide for themselves how to interpret the images – as passive or powerful. She says, “There’s a fine line between discriminating and empowering, but this is what I saw, this is what I lived – I just want to show this moment in time. You can see it however you wish I just wanted to document it.”

‘Tokyo Hotel Story’ runs until March 2. You can find images from the show, as well as her past projects, at http://www.daoustnathalie.com/ Gallery Connexion is located at 440 York St. and can be contacted at galleryconnexion.ca

Posted in: Qulture Shock