Does anyone really need throw pillows and headboards to set the mood for video sex? That’s the question I found myself asking after looking at the fascinating work of New York-born and Mexico- and Colombia-based photographer Kurt Hollander, who documents the sets where webcam performers work in his series, Erotic Videochat Studios.
Though some sets are specific, what really surprises me about Hollander’s photos is the sheer normalcy of many of the bedrooms, which look like they were outfitted by a suburban furniture mega-store. They’re full of deliberate details: fake flowers arranged in baskets, white and gold leaf sculpted headboards, polyester pillows. More than “camming” sets, they look like photos lifted from a “cozy, classic apartment” entry on AirBnB.
The bedroom sets are located in the city of Cali, Colombia–the world’s second largest provider of these video services. Hollander says via email that he went first went to Cali in 2013 to take photographs of a huge thematic love motel. “I lived in the motel for two weeks and spent most of the time taking portraits of the cement installations, paintings, and objects that adorned the 150 theme rooms couples would rent for up to two hours of pure pleasure,” he explains. “The disconnect between the brightly colored folk-art environments and the wild sex clients would have all around the room added a sense of the surreal to the photographs.” His book of the photographs, The Joyous Life (Popular Culture and Sex in Cali), is currently awaiting a publisher.
Hollander has documented many other aspects of sex culture in the city, including massage parlors, men’s clubs, spas, porn cinemas, swingers’ clubs, gang bang parties, and brothels, but he says the most consistently surreal environments were those of erotic video chat studios, which have dozens of rooms equipped with a computer and camera that transmit streaming videos of models 24 hours a day, all located inside of large, nondescript buildings in residential and commercial neighborhoods.
The bedroom sets inside these buildings embody the bland sameness of middle-class master bedrooms found in suburban homes and hotels all over the world, seemingly in contrast to their role as the background of sex videos that are broadcast to millions. But perhaps that’s the entire point of such a deliberate setup: to make it seem like viewers are peeking between the blinds of the house next door and watching everything that goes on there.