Brothels, bathrooms and Japanese car gangs

by Kitty Drake in October 2020
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Architecture Art & design

There is a sort of sadness to an empty room. You can find tell-tale hints of the people who have lived in it, if you look carefully enough: foot-worn carpeting; a nub of soap by sink; a faint ring left on a coaster. It’s overlooked, shabbily human touches like these that Scenic Views is interested in capturing. Editors Lorena Lohr and Louise Benson are reacting against the shiny, sterile scenes you might find in Country Homes or Architectural Digest. Scenic Views is not an ‘aspirational’ interiors magazine: it’s looking for the details of a room that reveals who its occupant “really is, rather than who they want to be”.

From a fur-lined truck in Japan, to an abandoned brothel in Nevada, Lorena and Louise talked me through their five favourite images in issue 2.

“This bathtub was shot by the photographer Timothy Hursley, part of a series of photographs he took over 20 years of brothels in Nevada, which are the only licensed brothels in America. Hursley works on commission for magazines like Architectural Digest and Modern Interiors, photographing the kind of hyper-styled, pristine interiors that Scenic Views is actually reacting against. But these aren’t the grandest of settings. The sex workers are assigned bedrooms and they decorate them in their own style. What we’re drawn to in these photographs are the small details of a room that reveal something private and unexpected about its occupant: the stuffed toys by the bed; the abandoned plate. This series is about the construction of a fantasy and its shattering. Nowhere do you see that more than in this image, of what was formerly a heart-shaped jacuzzi. Hursley first visited this brothel, Janie’s Ranch, in the eighties and then when he came back in the early 2000s he found it abandoned, and took this photograph. You can still see the traces of lime green shag carpet on the walls.”

— Louise Benson

“This image, of a cocktail served in a pineapple, is part of a repeating feature we run in Scenic Views. The idea is to collect a number of photographs around one seemingly mundane and familiar topic: in issue 1 we collected images from hotel booking sites; this time our topic is ‘cocktails’. We included images of drinks from glossy cocktail recipe books from the ‘70s through to the ’90s here, but we also have snaps people uploaded on review websites of their drinks. Themes of escapism and fantasy run through the whole magazine, and can be seen in this feature. There’s perhaps a tragic element to these photographs. With escapism comes the idea of: what are you escaping from? Where do you want to be? A cocktail is a way of achieving release. It’s not really about the alcohol. It’s everything about a cocktail from the glassware, to whether your umbrella is up or down. We’re really interested in how people tell stories through their surroundings. I love the soggy napkin you can glimpse under a margarita in this series. Little details of a cocktail’s presentation, like a bedroom, can tell you about a person. There’s an honesty to a soggy napkin.”

— Louise Benson

“This is part of a photography series by me; I have an ongoing focus on wipe-clean surfaces. I think it’s because you can leave these traces of yourself on a space and then wipe them all away so the next person can start all over again. I took this photograph, of a shell-shaped sink, about 10 years ago in a motel in New Orleans. The motel was run by a transvestite and every room had some kind of drama going on in it. It interested me that the motel bathroom I was in would see countless occupants. You’re going to have a lot of intimate moments in a bathroom — and I don’t mean that in the crudest sense. More, I mean that the bathroom is the place where you get yourself ready, and build yourself up for the day. Every story starts in the morning in the bathroom, doesn’t it?”

— Lorena Lohr

“Federico Radaelli, who took this photograph, has actually made a T-shirt of this image. This is part of a series about how truckers choose to decorate the insides of their vehicles. Federico went to Japan and became acquainted with several car gangs. The gangs were historically associated with violence, but these days they are much more peaceful. But they still meet, and often still in secret. They don’t want outsiders to come into the group so it took Federico a long time to build up the kind of relationship that would allow him to take these photographs. With the trucks in the piece, what’s interesting is that these aren’t just mobile homes, they’re also mobile workplaces. The trucks are all functional — used to deliver fish or vegetables — but the truckers spend up to £300,000 doing them up. There’s a crystal gear stick photographed as part of the series that cost over £150 alone.”

— Lorena Lohr

“Anyone who is just flicking through the magazine would assume that this was a photograph, but it’s actually a painting, by the Canadian photorealist Mike Bayne. Someone said that it looks slightly pixelated, which is revealing. They’re painted on 4 x 6 boards, in the classic format of a pack of holiday snaps, and we’ve actually printed some of the paintings in the magazine the size they are in real life. There’s something wonderful about the level of detail that Bayne goes into here on these seemingly uneventful street scenes; scenes the reader might have seen so many times as to render them almost invisible. There’s a devotional quality to these paintings. There’s a religious fervour to the way Bayne looks at the ordinary — looking at the everyday with that kind of fervour is what we’re trying to do with Scenic Views, as a project.”

— Louise Benson

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