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From The Asian Reporter, V18, #43 (October 28, 2008), page 16.

Empty rooms

Love Hotels

Photographs by Misty Keasler

Essays by Natsuo Kirino and Rod Slemmons

Chronicle Books, 2006

Hardcover, 156 pages, $40.00

By Josephine Bridges

Love hotels are a unique Japanese institution, hotels exclusively for sex," writes author Natsuo Kirino in one of the essays preceding this unsettling book of photographs. They have a long history, she continues, starting with "the geisha teahouses in the Edo period." Recently, however, love hotels have begun to change. "Themed hotels and rooms have appeared, with fantasy elements in every room: a bathtub, for instance, in the shape of an open clamshell. A round, rapidly revolving bed. A white horse gazing down at a bed."

Rod Slemmons, director of the Museum of Contemporary Photography at Columbia College Chicago, begins his essay by pointing out, "Photography of highly humanly charged scenes devoid of human presence is almost a genre in the history of the medium." However, he sees Misty Keaslerís photographs as "significantly different," in that they "are about sex, the ultimate manifestation of presence and absence." He is struck by the way these photographs contain "surprisingly pedestrian objects, like magazine racks, fans, microwave ovens (right next to the wall shackles), and homely wastebaskets."

The cover photograph of a bathtub in the form of what Slemmons describes as "the hypersexualized mythical monster Tanuki" is a disquieting combination of cute and creepy. The bathtub plug chain hung over the creatureís nose draws our attention away from its flat, black, empty eyes and the garish light the room is cast in. Itís a stunner. The first photographs in the series lead you through the lobby, up a staircase, into a hallway. Right after a picture called "Plastic Food (Room Service Display)," we find ourselves in rooms with themes from "Naughty Nurse Play Area" to "Hello Kitty S&M Room." Thereís a "Subway Room," an "Alien Abduction Play Area," an "Arctic Room," and something called "Rooftop Love Bronco." Youíll find "Carousel" back-to-back with "Spider Room." Yep, thereís something for everyone here.

In the middle of the series of photographs is a section called "Diaries," in which forms filled out by guests of love hotels are displayed. Vital statistics include foot size, educational history, and blood type. Guests can also draw their likenesses on the forms, and make comments, which run the gamut from "Please make Hello Kitty bathroom as well" to "I donít have a place to stay tonight."

"Gulliverís Refrigerator" welcomes us back to the photographs, which continue with a vending machine offering unusual selections, a "Chamber with Potty Training Toy," and various bathrooms, before the final three, which deserve special mention. "Control Room" takes us behind the scenes, but the room is so anonymous thereís no telling what itís controlling. "Pneumatic Tubes for Payment" isnít just discreet, itís antiseptic. Finally, "High School Room with Uniform" is one of the subtlest rooms in the collection, and a wonderful replica of a classroom, from the clock to the blackboard to the gray-painted metal legs of the desks and chairs.

The back cover photograph, "Cake Room," is sort of a Candyland for grownups, all bright, cheery colors with a love seat in the shape of lips and a big heart on the wall. But thereís also a gray "X" with some dark and heavy items attached. Truth be told, Iím glad itís over. Misty Keaslerís photographs are beautifully crafted, and I marvel at the energy it must have taken just to visit all those empty rooms. But now I think I know more about love hotels than I ever wanted.

To buy me, visit these retailers:

Powell's Books