Misty Keasler’s Japanese Love Hotels
Photography of highly charged spaces devoid of human presence is almost a genre in the history of the medium. Make a list: W.H. Fox Talbot’s library, Roger Fenton’s Into the Valley of the Shadow of Death, Eugene Atget’s unbearably lonely park trees. But Misty Keasler’s records are significantly different. They are about sex, the ultimate manifestation of presence and absence. I’m here, you’re there, we’re together, we’re suddenly, mutually absent. When we enter Keasler’s spaces, we become implicated in fantasies, rather than being simply absorbers of visual facts. We are forced to be imaginatively active rather than neutral observers.
Keasler has assigned us the job of imagining these spaces occupied with all kinds of interesting sexual activity.
Japanese love hotels originally were used by young couples who needed some time alone living in close quarters with their parents. They now cater to a wider variety of needs and have become extremely inventive. The people using the love hotel rooms are looking to be stimulated and defined by their surroundings. But the space of the room also must coincide with something they bring in their imagination, some of which is based on conventions of Manga and 19th century pornographic Ukiyo-e woodblock prints.
Keasler has assigned us the job of imagining these spaces occupied with all kinds of interesting sexual activity. While pornography was one of the very first uses of photography, it suffers from being an imagination sedative. It shuts down invention for the sake of the inescapably literal and explicit—just like photography in general. How much nicer it is to fill in the shackles and other devices while quarantining the urge to judge these places as sites of neurotic behavior.
So how do we reconcile the most immediate and quintessentially animal behavior of sex with our humanity that has been perceptually impaired by photography?
So how do we reconcile the most immediate and quintessentially animal behavior of sex with our humanity that has been perceptually impaired by photography? The past thirty years have produced volumes of writing pointing out that photography has established a new kind of sex between a virulently rapacious media and innocent bystanders—us. Artists like Keasler understand that photography is better at dancing around the edges, the waiting rooms of experience, than looking directly at the action.
— Rod Slemmons from Love Hotels (Chronicle Books), 2004
Misty Keasler was born in Houston, Texas on April 28, 1978. Keasler graduated from Columbia College Chicago with honors in 2001. She received the 2003 Dorothea Lange-Paul Taylor prize from the Center for Documentary Studies, was named by Photo District News as one of the “25 under 25 up-and-coming American photographers” in 2003, and was made an artist in residence at University of Dallas, Texas in 2005. Keasler’s work has been collected by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and the Kiyosato Museum of Photographic Arts in Japan. A book of the Love Hotels photographs was published in February 2006 by Chronicle Books, with essays by MoCP Director Rod Slemmons and award-winning author Natsuo Karino. Keasler lives and works in Dallas, Texas.