Nathalie Daoust’s project, Tokyo Hotel Story, continues her exploration of female sexuality and subversion of gender stereotypes. Spending several months living in Alpha In, one of the biggest S&M “love hotels” in Japan. Daoust photographed 39 women in their private rooms, surrounded by the specialist equipment and dressed in the regalia that helps define their trade.
“I am very concerned with studying the S&M phenomenon, which can be observed through various times and continents,” she says. “In this series I have documented women of all ages in the role of Dominatrix. I aim to give a different insight into the woman as a dominating being, which conflicts with the Japanese image of femininity, where women have become more passive beauties. Reality has often been altered to create a fantasy model of womanhood, but Tokyo Hotel Story tries to surpass assumptions, enduring beliefs and misrepresentations of the S&M world.”
The effects of Daoust’s photos on the viewer are profound and thought-provoking, offering powerful insights into a world most of us have never seen. Daoust’s subjects sometimes challenge the camera; sometimes they look demurely away. Some hide behind masks and bars. Whether their gestures are dominant or passive, all are in thrall to the fantasy worlds created between themselves and their clients.
Daoust believes numerous challenges still exist in terms of confronting deep-rooted stereotypes of gender-roles, not only in Japan but in the world. Her work helps her to delve beyond taboos while showing the universal human desire to escape reality and create fantasy worlds that often oscillate between dream, reality and perversion.
“I didn’t want to show S&M in a sensationalist way, but to show the women who work in this field and the places where it’s done. Places like the Alpha In, which specialises in S&M and where the décor and specialist equipment are on full display.”
Context and environment are so important to Daoust that she went to the effort of photographing 26 empty rooms and creating 3D anaglyph images that “give the viewer the feeling of being there.” Her developing and processing technique are equally significant. There’s no digital trickery at work here - all images are shot on analogue film and hand printed in a darkroom, allowing her to manipulate the negatives more closely to the images she “felt and saw” in her mind’s eye at the time of shooting.