In Brazil, where it’s common to live with your parents until marriage or well into adulthood, pay-by-the-hour “love hotels” are a cultural norm. They can be found everywhere, in cities, in the smallest villages, in towns in the thick of the Brazilian rainforest. With names like Paraíso and Diamantes, the interiors of these hotels hotels are a master class in opulence on a budget: rounded beds, neon lighting, vinyl sofas, glittering mirrors, and Jacuzzis galore.
For Vera van de Sandt, a Dutch art director and set designer for film and TV, these South American love hotels and their themed decor hold endless appeal. She and the Dutch photographer and electrician Jur Oster (they met on a film set) started traveling around the country to document them in 2013, after they heard that many in Rio de Janeiro were being renovated to accommodate visitors to this year’s summer Olympics. Their new photo book, Love Land Stop Time collects 60 images of the more than 100 hotels that they visited over a period of two years, capturing their campy ’70s and ’80s interiors in a dreamy, appreciative light.
When van de Sandt and Oster arrived first arrived in Rio in 2014, unsure of where to start, a friend introduced them to a taxi driver who showed them the motels that don’t tend to show up on hotel guides or in travel books. As they began talking to more people, the pair saw that it wasn’t unusual for Brazilian adults to have visited the hotels at least once in their lives. “Brazilians are very candid in their communication about the way they experience love and romance,” van de Sandt writes in an email. Over the course of the project, they talked to at least 100 people they met on their travels about the hotels and where to find the best ones in their town. “Most people found it very funny that we were interested in this specific topic, because for them a visit to a love motel is almost as normal as visiting a supermarket,” van de Sandt says. “And they found it even funnier when we explained we were so interested because love motels don’t exist in the Netherlands.”
The pair found a range of hotels to suit all budgets, from cheap motels for some quick privacy from home to medium budget motels for middle-class people who seek luxury for a few hours. Oster and van de Sandt focused on hotels from the ’70s and ’80s that they had heard were first in line to be renovated. Their photos capture sherbert-colored walls, glitzy disco lights, rooms bathed in a pink glow, with mirrors on the walls and ceiling. In one, a swimming pool surrounded by a manmade jungle oasis of fake rock and cascading plants is foregrounded by what looks like a condo complex. To ensure privacy, customers park inside private garages with staircases that lead directly to the rooms; sometimes the walls have a special hatch through which waiters can serve food, drinks, or sex toys ordered off a special menu.
Yet beneath the over-the-top decor, the most striking aspect of Brazilian love hotels might be their total normalcy. “Young people often live with their parents until they marry, and large families often live together in small houses,” says van de Sandt. “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 jacuzzis and big flatscreen televisions, exciting and fun.”
To purchase a copy of Love Land Stop Time, email the artists at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[All Photos: © Jur Oster & Vera van de Sandt]