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  • milo segundie kpims


A Two-part series

Part 1

The Hotel, two different books, two creators, and the human-sized gap between them.

Here we are on this globe. A living mass of flowing originality and biodiversity, within an expansive framework of creation, dispersion, regrowth, and constant adaptation.

While living as part of this incredible and edible natural existence, there have been human-animal alterations that have caused some redundancies, or so it would seem.

My first job ever was at a coffee kiosk called Higher Groundz. I was 16, trying to figure out how to do something for myself money-wise, in the wild world of approaching adulthood. I started slow and nervous. Only interested in getting in and getting out with that day’s tip money, having imagined all day what it is I could do with that little bit of cash. My friend Josh also worked there and we would daydream and come up with song ideas for our band at the time, The Modern Rock Legends. It was a truly transformative experience.

Alright anyway, a couple of years go by, I had worked there for a little over a year and quit, graduated high school, luckily, and moved fifteen minutes north to the small college town of San Luis Obispo. Biking to who knows where, surrounded by that unforgiving and lovely blue of the sky above us, a few friends and I passed a coffee shop with the same name and logo as the one I had previously worked for. I yelled to them and swinging around, we locked up and went in. I was curious about what had come of that little kiosk, and all of the sudden I wanted an Iced coffee of some kind. Mmm…the magic of advertising.

Working behind the counter was someone I had met a while ago and we chatted for a minute. I asked about any affiliation with the kiosk and she said that they get asked that all the time and that there is no connection. This coffee shop was run by Christians, for Christians, which was not the same business plan as the other location at all, but I will say, the name was way more fitting for that new location. We got our drinks, said bye, and headed out. The rest of the day…was probably pretty great, can’t quite remember to be honest.

This leads me to the main point of this article; redundancy with a variation. Things that, on the outside seem too similar to go unnoticed, whether it be a name or logo, or even some photo books with the same titles, made by different people, with similar yet wonderfully original content. There are 4 books, 5 photographers, and two titles I will be talking about in this 2-part series. I hope to be able to see and share the little differences and specifics that each person makes of the themes chosen and how they’ve made it their own.

Today is one of the last few days of summer, 2022, I just sat down at a Coffee shop not far from my house, after ordering a quad shot latte with oat milk and 3 sugars, $9 after tip. From the place, I am sitting there is a pouring of mid-day light coming through the south-facing windows. Inside this dark wood and maroon interior, prints of classic paintings heavily framed in swirling gold decadence are edged in this light and have settled in it nicely. I have this lovely stack of books, all four beside me, waiting to be flipped through yet again. The first at the top of the stack is ‘The Hotel’ and the first in the line of photographers is Sophie Calle. Released by Siglio Press in 2021, and originally published by Actes Sud in French in 1998; this collection of photos is from 1981.

This project came from Sophies’ landing a job as a temporary chambermaid for 3 weeks; actually, I’ll let her explain it. Across two pages, spread beneath a photo of a bed dimpled from use she says: “On Monday, February 16th, 1981, I was hired as a temporary chambermaid for three weeks at a Venetian hotel. I was assigned 12 bedrooms on the fourth floor. In the course of my cleaning duties, I examined the personal belongings of the hotel guests and observed, through details, lives which remained unknown to me. On Friday, March 6th, the job came to an end.”

When first opening this golden-edged beautiful nugget of a book, you’ll notice the nice addition of a small black doorknob hanger. In white lettering, it states to the viewer, “Joyfully Resting.” Then just like that, the journey through Sophie's eyes, accompanied by short writings of her experience being in those spaces begins. Although most of the photos in this book are black and white, there are full-spread, full-color photos of each room she took the photos in at the beginning of each section. These welcome us into room after room, drawer after drawer, diving into a truly fanciful Venetian experience, and left with the sometimes odd sweeping feeling of human loneliness the individuals occupying these rooms have left, like little crumbs, messes of memory.

An obvious disconnect and a voyeuristic eye is searching and photographing these spaces and belongings. Many of Sophie's writings are listing off the items found in the room, with little details to mark them, singular and externally their own. She moves through the rooms like a detective breeze, looking for something to make this person or persons materialize before her, while also continuing to hold that distance. Piecing together the parts of a temporary life with bits of personal history glue, tucked in wallets, drawers, between books, under bed sheets, between glass, etc. There are discoveries such as cards with the guests' blood type, addresses, coordinates, photographs, and journal entries, none of which seem to let us in on a true image of that person. It is all left up to our imagination, as it was for hers as she existed temporarily in these spaces that held the whispers of guests’ staying’s, comings, and goings. Think about it, a passer through inspecting and compiling the little bits of someone’s momentary dent in time. She explored belongings to make her temporary existence there more enjoyable, maybe have more of a purpose and in the end, to make a story of it.

Digging through the scraps. A dog in the dishes.

The words that come to mind when I think of the two same titled yet opposing books are Separation and Distance/inside, outside. Separation as in the lack of personal tie or connection, and distance from the act of connecting, creating a bond or relationship beyond the material, and the perceived life there. There are 242 pages of some neatly placed items, some less neat oddities set out, such as a crab leg on a blanket at the base of a pillow on an unmade bed. Looking at some of these scenes makes me think they could be used as tools for

artistic prompts.

Towards the end of the book, you get a full page of a shiny black plastic bag, knotted and beneath it a hammer. The image is isolated, so as the viewer, you can’t quite tell if it was hidden in a closet or right in the middle of the room, waiting to be discovered and turned in as evidence. Reading Sophies notes you find it was in the wardrobe, where no clothes hung, she removed the items and placed some of them on the bed to spread out and photograph. This room, room 29, is by far the most intriguing to me.

The person staying in this room seems to have some obsession with a similar division you feel throughout the rest of this book, an orderly and almost archivist-like relationship to their things. This is the last room Sophie enters and cleans before the book comes to an end and I believe this to be the most significant room when looking at this work and trying to understand its impact. As individuals, it is almost impossible to come across a pile of things, meet a person, or hear a conversation in a diner, without adding something of ourselves, finding a way to make a connection, and somehow tying our life to others. I think that comes with the territory of being social animals. Making connections like that helps us have empathy (hopefully) and builds a basis for a continuation in understanding and a desire to keep moving forward in the exploration of this newfound relationship with the living and the inanimate. All this to say, I believe Sophie Calle has challenged us here, giving us a small part of the human experience and leaving the rest up to our imagination; laying out a tapestry of deep mystery before us. Where is the meaning? Is it reliant on things seen or is it what we haven’t been shown that keeps us looking, page after page? Photography books and art, in general, can be good at that kind of storytelling, very open-ended and left up for the viewer to interpret and be led along until some part of the story hits you and knocks you down into a state of settling, mouth agape and your own memories or moments longed for coming back into view.

Another way to tell a story of the human experience within the confines of a Hotel is shown in the lovely book ‘The Hotel’ by Tenzing Dakpa. This book opens very differently than the previous title, inviting us in, not in 5 short sentences, but in a whole page. A page that lets us in on a family's history; a history of unknowns, that asks questions gone unanswered about a connection to one’s people and place, their personal history, and the history of those before them. Memory all scattered about from the many hands who’ve wielded it and made of it whatever fit their time appropriately. Leaving the one asking the questions as empty and unsettled as a hotel room, prepped with no guest to fill it.

Hotels, as we know, are places where people can end up for a night or more while on the road of life and self-discovery, maybe at a crossroads with a major life decision, or just in need of a place to rest. They can be a setting that is neutral, designed to host with ease and surround the guest with non-abrasive decor; a momentary blank slate.

Tenzings’ family makes their Hotel a very welcoming place for passers-through and Hotel guests in Sikkim where they live. Released in 2020 by Steidl, it is a beautiful paperback book. The cover is a full wrap-around of the blueprints of the Hotel. The opening loose page, is a lovely printed document, a recalling of family history; the uprooting of family ties, and the burying of personal history. This page gives the viewer a pretty succinct understanding of the people on the following pages, what they have sacrificed, and what they put into their space to give people a place to be, a solid home for a short time.

We can look at Sophie's relationship with the hotel as purely transactional; based on income and short-lived “relationships” with the subjects and their objects in temporary spaces. Whereas Tenzings family is fully in it, invested; being both the creators of a place where stories are held as they unfold and where their story rolls on. We get to see throughout this work what is sacrificed and what scars and tatters a building can wear throughout its life.

There are humorous photos such as his father behind a bucket filled with brambles; a photo of his brother maybe, with his dukes up and a big smile on his face in stained sweats. A few photos of a thin, white kitten doing what kittens do best, exploring deep into mischief. There is a lot of movement in these photos, as opposed to the set compositions in Sophies Hotel.

We see what is in need of repair peppered throughout such as holes with wires peaking out, what looks like a spray-painted line, thick as an arm, tracing a crack that cuts from ceiling to wall.

There is almost nothing not shared on these pages and the photos that show blank stares and pondering moments of pause and a certain kind of rest for the caretakers there, these photos are the ones that truly try and put us right there with them. There is tension in the room where Tenzings mother stands staring at his father, head tilted, tired, and thinking on the bed. You never see a single guest, or any belongings not belonging to the hosts themselves. It is all right there in front of you, and these pages, one after another, carry us through moments of tenderness, work, play, a dance of pillows, exhaustion, the scenery that surrounds, and a family making space for families to be, something they weren’t granted throughout their time in Bhutan. They are in the hospitality business and they have created a place to work within, choosing to do so and continuing. Although Tenzings family were pressured/forced out of their home in Bhutan, then migrated to Sikkim and built this life for themselves, they live much less migratory than Sophie Calle did.

After years and years of hardship, that has affected many generations of their family, they have settled like a stone in a way that maybe only people who have experienced such pressures could. I do not believe these hardships to be a good thing, not at all, but it seems as if this paved the way for a kindness and a will to survive that warps the bounds of most of our understandings of work or career, family and our histories, leaving only what is important, comfort, care, and respect.

I don’t know exactly what I would have gotten from this book had I not read the loose page in the beginning, it very well could’ve led me to see things much differently. I am however glad to be given a somewhat detailed background to put with these images, it feels like a good way to read the scenes before me and honor the people, rooms, and other living beings on each page. There are so many ways to experience space, even when our own space has been altered in some way or maybe even taken from us all together. How we experience existence is very personal to us, and how others perceive another's existence is pulling apart the personal and making it something different altogether; turning it into something for themselves, stripping off the origin, and wearing it like a fancy shirt. Sophies Hotel reminds me a little of today's social media, but in 1981 and in book form. A bit scarcer when it comes to marketing and influencing, but still set up in a way that focuses more on a portrayal of someone through a lens in pieces rather than a solid image. The array of things that are familiar but displayed in a way that the person sharing the images would like them to be seen. Real and yet tampered with, making the composed items in these settings interesting in how they are set, but maybe only interesting for that reason.

In Tenzings Hotel there is still that aim of wanting something to be shared for a specific reason, but the candidness of the images and the lives moving through on the pages are left living, removing the romanticism from the images. It is just life, nothing spectacular, not an array of goods or an odd spectacle of belongings, just people surviving and doing so in the way they know how. The language of images is powerful, but the language we use to create spaces for ourselves in which others experience in passing while visiting or cleaning, coming over for dinner, or picking up their dog after a long week away, this is where magnificence lies. This is where we choose what it is that is worth sharing, how we’ll share it, and why. Maybe it is where we live and in turn it us part of us, part of our story. Stories are all we have, if the people we love and that we hope love us back, someday stop talking about us, do we cease to exist, is that the moment our last remaining cinder is dimmed in its pulsing and our last breath is then spewed in smoke? Stories are important, so let’s keep making them and sharing them.

These are both wonderful books, I highly recommend you scoop up a copy of each and look and think for yourself, it's worth it and you never know what you might find behind one of the many doors down any hall in either book.

Join me for Part two of this series, where I’ll be going over two photo books with the title ‘Evidence’ by 3 different photographers. The subject matter is taken on incredibly differently, I bet you will be enchanted.

Until then, thanks for stopping by.

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