Like gas stations or a fast-food chain restaurant, love motels are common fixtures of the Brazilian landscape. And like McDonald’s golden arches, the signs on their facades often light up the surrounding block in vivid neon, signaling with little discretion that pleasure awaits just behind locked doors. Over the past two years, photographer Jur Oster and art director Vera van de Sandt, both from the Netherlands, ventured into dozens upon dozens of these steamy getaway spots across Brazil to photograph their interiors.
The suggestive series of over 60 photos, published in the photobook Love Land Stop Time, presents a world bathed in movie-set light and brilliant color, capturing interiors still evidently stuck in the ’70s or the ’80s. Rooms feature mirrors not just on walls but also on their ceilings; sofas are dressed in vinyl printed with busy, retro-patterns; beds are round. In one image, a prism of light is cast on a mustard-yellow curtain and a floral bed sheet, creating a homey love den for disco lovers.
Oster and van de Sandt learned that hundreds of these kitschy interiors exist, finding love motels in Brazil’s large cities as well as its small villages. They searched for them online and spoke with locals, but each spot was also easily identifiable by their suggestive names, which ranged from “Red Love” to “Cristal Palace” to “Stop Time.” As any average couple searching for a romp in the sack in a motel, Oster and van de Sandt rented out many rooms, using the paid hours instead to take photographs.
“Because we don’t have them in the Netherlands, at first we didn’t fully understand what they are for,” the pair told Hyperallergic. “We thought they were only meant for cheating and prostitution, but along the way we found out that the love motels meet a social need.” They found, from conversations with locals, that visiting these pleasure palaces is essentially as normal as taking a trip to the supermarket. Young people in Brazil tend to live with their parents until marriage; small houses often accommodate large families. Love motels — relatively ubiquitous, cheap, and available for rent by the hour — offer a much-needed place where couples have guaranteed privacy to enjoy some good, old-fashioned adult fun. And, although no lovers are present, the fun to be had in the photographed rooms is clear: Oster and van de Sandt capture details like shiny poles, a packaged thong, and padded bed designed to ease adventurous positions.
Love Land Stop Time was also fueled by a sense of urgency: Oster and van de Sandt had learned that love motel owners in Rio de Janeiro had started renovating and redecorating their rooms to accommodate the influx of visitors flying in for the 2014 World Cup, likely in search of continental breakfasts rather than creative mood lighting. These past summer Olympics, too, promised money-making opportunities for those in the hospitality business if they just remodeled. When the artists revisited one motel named Capri, dismay hit them when they noticed its blinding, gigantic neon sign was no longer shining a gaudy light on the streets. That’s not to say the industry is dying. It’s actually booming, just fast-changing: as the New York Times reported, many love motels are simply updating to suit the tastes of 21st-century lovers who crave amenities like private DJs and bars with beer-on-tap.
The pair shot the series with a medium-format camera, and the graininess of the color negative film introduces an additional layer of nostalgia to these vacant yet vivid scenes. In a way, the decision to use the once-widely used tools of photography is quite fitting, with them here bearing witness to the remaining relics of another fast-changing and widely supported industry.
Love Land Stop Time is available for purchase from the artists via firstname.lastname@example.org.