For Sydney photographer Cybele Malinoswki, the dingy, flea-bitten hotel rooms that we’d all rather approach with a ten-foot pole and a plastic suit, became a thing of beauty deserving closer attention.
“The idea for Vacancy started to gel after a few weeks into our road trip through the States. We were staying on friend’s sofas, hotels and motels, and after the tenth freshly-made bed I realised there was something so sexy and lonely about these homes away from home. It seems so personal a space, and yet the motel/hotel room is a universal portrait of a traveller.”
Vacancy will be staged at Gaffa Gallery as part of this year’s Head On – a photography festival they claim to be the world’s second largest. It will not only feature an array of Malinowski’s snapshots from her time traversing the blacktop of the Deep South as well as Australia’s far north, but also a reconstructed hotel room. On the night, you will have the chance to peek in and observe a solitary traveller as she goes about her gentle moments of toilette.
“I wanted to play with the idea of the publicness of this private space. A voyeuristic experience for the gallery-goers, as they peer in through the window of the motel set, watching my motel muse dress and undress, I hope that it reminds them of how intimate and yet universal our journeys are.”
Amongst the images, there might even be a pile of bricks you recognise from your travels, or even better, a room.
“The Australian leg of my journey was more intimate and unique than the States. Most of the motels in the States were owned by a third party, with employees running them. A lot of the Australian motels were owned by retiree couples, who were happy to chat. One couple mentioned that it was cheaper to buy a run-down motel than a house in the area. Motels are a dying form, where once travelling families would book out the rooms, now the beds are occupied by the few business men and women who drive rather than fly, the odd lonely drunk, and miners working nearby – without the mining boom in QLD I doubt these motels would be sustainable.”
Stand-outs for Malinowski included a mural-themed hotel in Port Macquarie – including a feature Ned Kelly fresco on a hanging table. Or Great Keppel Island, a now-abandoned resort with the airstrip overrun with emu-like birds, the rooms now home to native rodents and families of insects.
“It was like walking through the set of Lost,” says Malinoswki. “I was so high on adrenalin; I think I shot five rolls of film. It was a photographer’s dream. Paradise in decay.”
Back at home, things can still be less than ideal for a female photographer. While twice shortlisted for the prestigious SOYA Awards, Malinoswki says clients still occasionally address her (male) assistant as the head photographer, ignoring her.
“It’s quite satisfying when I turn around with a camera, and the realisation of their biased judgement slowly crawls across their face.”
May 3-14, Gallery One, Gaffa Gallery, 281 Clarence St, Sydney, 9283 4273, gaffa.com.au