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No matter what major city a traveler may visit, the white beds of the Hilton Hotel await, ready with their clean stacks of pillows and neatly tucked sheets. Even the perspective from the wide window, gently masked with a light curtain, might seem familiar, with the swirl of foreign traffic and skyscrapers safely muted below. Over the course of a year, Swiss photographer Roger Eberhard visited 32 cities on five continents, staying in a standard double room at the Hilton, and documenting the room and its view.
Standard, out February 15 from Scheidegger and Spiess and distributed by University of Chicago Press, includes a diptych for each destination. The locations are on the back of the monograph, starting with Berlin on May 17, 2015 and ending with Moscow on May 16, 2016. Essays in German and English consider the globalization represented by this “standard,” the appearance of which might have been within the first Westernized skyscraper in an urban area. “Hilton Hotels were among the first high-rise complexes in the city centers of travel metropolises, and exuded the glamour of an American utopia,” writes art historian Franziska Solte. “The foreignness of the immediate surroundings could be observed from inside through the broad glass fronts, from a safe, elevated perspective, and occurs as a distant, background spectacle.”
Founder Conrad Hilton proudly proclaimed: “Each of our hotels is a little America.” And that “standard” which Eberhard photographed is tightly controlled by the hotel chain, down to the alarm clock, side table lamp, and nearby armchair. Eberhard’s images do capture local deviations, such as a glass chandelier in Venice, or a black striped headboard in New York, and sometimes the views are distinct, like the sweeping shore of Panama City. However, as with a dreary beige façade consuming the view in Berlin, or the nondescript towers in Tokyo, often they feel like a liminal time and place.
“A hotel room radiates that we do not mean anything to it, we are one of many exchangeable goods,” notes novelist Benedict Wells in an essay. “I am not going to leave anything behind, or change anything, and even if I were to steal a towel, it would be replaced immediately.”
The Standard book follows previous photography projects by Eberhard on the nature of hotels. His Shanty Town Deluxe featured fuzzy Polaroids of a luxury hotel in South Africa that uses poverty as a gimmick, while Aussicht explored the window views and exterior of the Citadel Inn resort in Western Ukraine. That hotel was used as a World War II concentration camp, yet there is no plaque or memorial to share that history with visitors. The typology of the hotel room is one of anonymity, a uniformity that gives all of these places a sense of untouchable stillness in their temporary comforts.