Fascinated by the concept of intimacy in Japan, and the complexness of it in Japansese society, photographer Zaza Bertrand is working on a documentary series inside love hotels. The bizarre atmosphere and the notable tension in these hotels intrigues her. Zaza’s unability to communicate with the subjects on the other side of her camera, makes for sometimes uncomfortable moments and unpredictable situations.
Zaza got her Master degree in Photography with great distinction and worked as an freelance intern for the Dutch quality newspaper ‘De Volkskrant’. She came back to Belgium in order to focus on autonomous work. Her most recent project, 'Dreamland', about upper class Egyptian girls living in gated communities, was covered in a number of national and international newspapers and magazines. www.zazabertrand.com
How did you end up doing this project?
“I was working on another project, when someone told me about these hotels. The guy talked about growing up in houses where lots of families live together under the same roof (due to the expensive housing and over population). To get some privacy - so his grandmother wouldn’t hear everything through the thin paper walls in their house - he and his girlfriends used to rent rooms per hour in rubaho’s (which means ‘love hotel’). According to him, everyone went to these love hotels, but no one ever spoke of it.”
Are love hotels taboo?
“It’s a paradox. On the one hand, they defenitely are. Everything is extremely confidential. For example: visitors can’t see other visitors’ cars or license plate, there’s no one at the hotel desks, and everything is automized so anonymity is guaranteed. On the other hand, these hotels are frequented by a broad range of customers and they are very common all over Japan (there are over 35.000 hotels). This contradiction makes for a fascinating atmosphere, which I’m trying to capture.”
You already worked on this project?
“I did. I was in Fukuoka more than a year ago, for about one month. I spent a lot of time in the lobby’s of surrounding love hotels, asking people if me and my camera could go upstairs with them. In exchange, I offered to pay for their room.”
How did it go?
“Some of the visitors giggled, some got angry, and most just ignored my questions, and I was asked to leave several times. As this means of looking for models succeeded only once (with a couple that found it extra invigorating :-) ), I started to approach people online - with the help of a Japanese friend - instead. That lifted some barriers, and I ended up with lots of interesting encounters, I never knew who I was about to meet.”
What’s the most interesting experience you had?
“There was one married couple that did a shibari - the art of rope binding - performance in front of me. It was very calming, actually. He took forever to tie knots and weave his patterns, and all of the time she sat still as a stone.”
Why are you determined to go back?
“Because working on this project, I experience a kind of openness that I haven’t experienced before in Japan. The rabuho’s are an outlet for the rigidness of society, a safe haven for all the normal, the weird, for dreams and secrets. There was a girl who told me she was addicted to hostess boys, and that she had become a call girl because they are so expensive. Hostess boys are another unique Japanese phenomenon: they’re good looking guys who get paid (a lot) by young women to be attentive. They don’t sleep with each other, they just send the girls messages, they listen to their worries, and make them feel cherished. The girl I met couldn’t resist them, even if she knew it was all artificial. And I don’t think she would have told me this, if we weren’t in a rabuho room together. I would like to dive deeper into the subject. I have some good images, but the series don’t tell what I want to express yet. So I need to go back, even if I have to stalk people around me for 40 days to attain this budget :-)
(IV by Barbara Seynaeve)