A woman reclines on her back, literal waterfalls running off her naked body. An arrowed sign above her reads, “Las Vegas,” indicating that visitors should turn left. It’s not an ad for a strip club, like you might’ve seen while driving through a number of American cities, but a Brazilian love motel, an establishment meant for couples to retreat for a few nights or a few hours.
It’s estimated that there are over 5,000 love motels in Brazil, a business that accounts for at least 300,000 jobs. A New York Times article investigates the ritzier among these establishments ― love motels with plunge pools, 4D movies and helicopter rides on offer. But art director Vera van de Sandt and photographer Jur Oster were interested in the country’s more quotidian getaways ― the love motels that could be found in more rural areas, built in the ‘70s and ‘80s, speckled across Brazil.
Van de Sandt wrote in an email to The Huffington Post that she’d heard about the love motels ― their “round beds, dance poles, neon lighting and sometimes special themes” ― and decided to book a flight and begin the project of cataloging them.
“Even though I never actually went inside one of these motels, I was fascinated by the phenomenon,” van de Sandt said. She’d read an article on The Huffington Post in 2013 about the hotels being revamped into less overtly romantic accommodations, to free up space for visitors attending the 2016 Olympics.
“What a waste!” she said. Aware of impending renovations or closings, she resolved to work on a series of photos that would preserve these expressive spaces. The result, completed over the course of two trips to Brazil, was a series of photos that employed only natural light to capture the hotels’ moods and atmospheres. A stiff bed lies beneath a mirrored ceiling; a neon pink staircase belies simple accommodations.
“We thought they were only meant for cheating and prostitution, but along the way we found out that the love motels meet a [different] social need,” van de Sandt said. “Young people often live with their parents until they marry, and large families often live together in small houses. In general, people have little privacy so love motels are mostly cheap, sheltered places where couples can relax and be together. Besides that, many couples find motels, with their Jacuzzi’s and flat-screen televisions, exciting and fun.”
Van de Sandt said the more she explored these spaces, the more she grew to appreciate their purpose.
“These rooms often look like film sets from a long-gone past and that is precisely why we wanted to capture them before they would disappear,” she said. “We hope that people who see our photos can make up their own story about what happens in these kind of motel rooms.”