What Possesses Someone to Photograph 101 Motels?

Monday April 30, 2018 Written by Smith

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Brett Patman has spent a lot of time snapping Hume Highway motels in the wee hours of the night. Here, he tells us why.  

You’ve shot everything from an abandoned bakery to an old abandoned shoe factory. Why do deserted places captivate you?

The real motivation was to unearth all these untold stories from people who had a direct connection with the places. In the comments sections of my posts, I’ve seen how people who once worked together, but who haven't spoken in years, reconnect. They start new community groups and organise reunions. At one site, somebody even posted pictures of the last workers coming out of the gate, locking it for the last time and popping a bottle of champagne with a tear in their eyes. That’s the most rewarding and exciting aspect of the Lost Collective project: capturing these real-life histories and personal accounts that would otherwise be lost.

How did this all start?

I was working as a service technician back in 2011 and part of my job was to visit all these big industrial client sites. They often contained large areas of redundant buildings and infrastructure. Some really were amazing, time capsules that ordinary people never get to see: big empty warehouses, pump rooms with pipes and rusted boiler houses. There was something beautiful in the stillness of these places. When I did finally purchase a camera, I went out to an abandoned textile factory one weekend and I was instantly hooked. There was the adrenaline rush of sneaking in and making my way through the buildings undetected. The photos turned out to be so much more interesting than a graffiti-covered laneway that everyone has seen thousands of times.

Your latest project saw you trekking around photographing 101 hotels and motels in the dead of night. Why? 

It all stemmed from watching the TV series Mindhunter, where the two main characters stay in all these different motels as they travel across the US. At the end of the series, I made a list of motels along the Hume Highway in Sydney, and just went for it. I initially wanted to build a collection of the road signs. I’d envisioned all these Americana-type ones with big triangular shapes, light bulbs and neon but it turns out those kinds of road signs aren't that common in Australia! So I decided to focus on the rooms instead. I became fascinated by the transient lives that pass through motels.

What was the bleakest motel you came across?

There are some that I don't think I'd enjoy staying in. Like the Grandstand Motel in south-western Sydney…

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It looks and smells abandoned, but it does have guests, including long-term ones. Some of the rooms were boarded up, most had mismatched doors, some with numbers spray-painted on. I wasn't sure whether it still even operated as a motel because it doesn't have a website. It does have a phone number though, so I called that. Turns out it’ll set you back $80 for a night or $60 for a half-day. 

What are your favourite images in the collection?

There’s the Sapphire Palms Motel, The Entrance... 

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It has this tragic white statue right in the middle of the car park, and I fucking love it. Never mind that it is probably positioned so badly it's at risk of being knocked over every time someone backs out of their parking space. It's surrounded by parking bumpers and had a traffic cone at its foot. I love the apparent importance of this statue so much. The shot itself is artistically one of my favourites; there are stars in the sky, mismatched curtains and the glow behind the head of the statue helps to reaffirm its importance. 

Then there’s the Warilla Hotel…

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This one wasn't on my list; it was an accidental find. I can't even find a mention of it on Google. It's about as basic as you can get. Just a bleak grey row of rooms with smokers’ chairs out the front. This is one of my favourite pictures in the collection because of how stripped back it is. 

The Thirroul Beach Motel is probably my favourite… 

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I had no idea – until after I'd posted the image online and people started commenting – that it was the motel where Brett Whitley died of a heroin overdose in 1992. That was a sad realisation. The room (number 4) appears in the photo.

Where can people go to find more of your work?

I'm selling some of my favourite photographs from Lost Collective at the Finders Keepers Sydney market, from May 4-6 at the Barangaroo Cutaway.

See more of Brett Patman’s work at Lost Collective site and on Instagram