Tanvi Misra is a staff writer for CityLab covering immigrant communities, housing, economic inequality, and culture. She also authors Navigator, a weekly newsletter for urban explorers (subscribe here). Her work also appears in The Atlantic, NPR, and BBC.
These sanctuaries for the sex-deprived shed light on the various ways people find space for intimacy.
In Brazil, where young people tend to live in pretty close quarters with mom, dad, and other members of their families until they get married, it isn’t easy to get some privacy with a romantic partner. But it’s possible—at “love motels.” These are sometimes-seedy, sometimes hilariously lavish sanctuaries for the sex-deprived.
The Dutch art director Vera van de Sandt had heard of these motels during her travels to Brazil. She was intrigued by all the shapes and sizes they came in, and wanted to see what they were like from the inside. In 2014, she read that some in Rio de Janeiro were being converted into boring old regular hotels for the 2016 Olympics. Before they were all gone, she and the photographer Jur Oster set off to document them.
They visited Rio and many other areas in the country in two trips in 2014 and 2015. With locals’ help, they found some really wacky motels that weren’t listed online. “You find motels everywhere, even in the smallest village,” van de Sandt says. ”They are easy to spot—mainly because of their names, which are often quite suggestive,” she adds. “We thought they were only meant for cheating and prostitution, but along the way we found out that the love motels meet a social need.” She and Oster posed as a couple to gain entry, and then captured the architecture and the interior decor of these buildings. They’ve compiled their images into a series called “Love Land Stop Time.”
There’s one that looks like a casino, with bright neon signs barking its name, “Capri,” in the dark. Another resembles a nondescript internet café, and is barely noticeable amid the bustle of a busy shopping district. From the inside, one of the motels could well be someone’s grandma’s house, with pleasant lace curtains and portraits of anonymous flower bouquets. Some have amenities—dancing poles, love seats, and sex swings to sex swing on. In Salvador, one is designed in a style I’d call “prehistoric-glam” (below). It had rocky walls, waterfalls, and sunken beds. It looks like a place Fred and Wilma Flintstone might frequent, whenever their romance needed rekindling.
You don’t actually see people in these images, though. That’s intentional; van de Sandt and Oster didn’t want to violate anyone’s privacy. Plus, most of the places had discreet entrances, so patrons could make it straight to their rooms without encountering another person. In any case, the project focused on the places themselves—and there was more than enough to see. “The attempt at romance is often in the details, and we hope that people who see our photos can make up their own story about what happens in these kind of motel rooms,” van de Sandt says.
She and Oster talked openly about their project with Brazilians they met on their visits to the country. Many locals regarded love motels as a routine necessity. “Most people found it very funny that we were interested in this topic because for them, a visit to a love motel is as normal as visiting a supermarket,” van de Sandt says. “They found it even funnier when we explained we were so interested because love motels don't exist in the Netherlands. One of the most frequently asked questions was: ‘If there aren't any love motels, where do you have sex?’”
van de Sandt hopes the series might lead to a couple of these motels popping up in The Netherlands, where she lives. It would inspire people to “think about different ways of experiencing love and romance,” she says.
Check out some of the images below. A booklet with over 60 of these images can be ordered directly at: firstname.lastname@example.org.