Brett Patman is an Australian photographer with a soft spot for Motels. His project, Hotel Motel 101 is a compilation of photographs from one hundred and one different roadside motels within a 170 KM radius of Sydney, photographed late at night or very early in the morning, highlighting the variety of appearances from place to place.
The collection covers the whole spectrum of roadside motels from the beachy pastel coloured boutiques, to seedy, unkempt establishments with some shocking accounts in the TripAdvisor reviews.
How did you become a Motel connoisseur? What made you pick them as your subject matter?
I don't know if I'd go so far to call myself a motel connoisseur, I just thought there was a good idea in something to do with motels but wasn't really sure what it was at the time. It's an idea I've been sitting on for a while but never really knew where to start, then one night I was watching Mindhunter, and there were these cool looking motel scenes and that was more or less the catalyst, I went out the next night and just started shooting and it all went from there.
Why did you feel it was important to document these places?
In all honesty, I didn't feel a sense of importance other than to create art, it was purely a creative outlet for me to do this, but looking back I guess the days of motels are numbered with the rise of things like Airbnb, so in that sense I think it is a record of a way of life that won't be around forever, and that does have some importance.
How long did you spend on the road hunting for motels? How did you find the ones you wanted to photograph?
I think I spent about 3 or 4 weeks shooting motels every second night or so, sometimes consecutive nights too. Regarding finding them, it was just a matter of putting 'motel' into google maps and then making a list of every single one I could find heading in any given direction, I'd then compile that into a run for that night, and that's really all there was to it. I didn't care what they looked like, as long as they were a motel and no people were hanging around, I'd shoot it.
What is it about motels that make them so enduring in our popular culture? Are they as ingrained in the public psyche in Australia as they are in North America?
There's this specific element of mystery with motels, who has been there, who is there now, what are all these people doing here, where are they going, none of which you're likely ever to get an answer, but it's intriguing all the same. I don't really know how they are viewed in the American psyche compared to Australia, but from what I gather it is probably similar. Most Australians have a connection to motel stays in one way or another, everyone recalls summer holidays along the coast in a dank motel, but everyone still has fond memories even though the physical attributes of a motel are pretty tragic.
Did you run into any odd situations? Anything memorable from the visited places?
I was probably the odd situation myself in most cases. There was one motel where I encountered someone who questioned what I was doing. It was late at night and was around the back taking a photo of the accommodation entrance. Almost straight away, a security guard emerged from the shadows and said: "You can't do that mate, this is private property" I responded, "Oh sorry I was just taking a photo of the sign, I'm going now anyway." He had this completely bewildered look on his face. He looked at the sign I'd just photographed, paused, looked back at me and said, "Yeah, but it's private property" almost like he was asking a question. I said, "Oh sorry I didn't realise it was private property, I just wanted a photo of the sign, I'll go now". With a furrowed brow and a totally perplexed look on his face, he shook his head and walked away.
Did you do some personal research and stayed in some of the pictured establishments?
Other than looking up places to shoot and reading the reviews (sort by least stars every time) I didn't research a lot beyond that. I've only stayed in one of the motels I shot, but that was almost exactly thirty years ago to the day.
How accurate are the reviews on TripAdvisor? You must be an expert by now.
I'd say they are pretty accurate. You get a pretty good feeling of how bad a motel might be just by looking at it, of course not all things present themselves in this way, but if it looks like hell on the outside, you can be sure it's not going to be better inside.