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Meet the guy who has photographed more than a hundred of Sydney’s motels

Sydney-based photographer Brett Patman has been to a hundred and one different motels. He didn’t go to all those places to stay, but rather, to take their pictures.

In his series Hotel Motel 101, he visited different roadside accommodations within a 170KM radius of Sydney, hoping to capture the “personal touches” that make each place unique.

“The collection covers the whole spectrum of roadside motels from the beachy pastel coloured boutiques, to seedy, unkempt establishments with some shocking accounts in the TripAdvisor reviews,” said Patman.

Hotel Motel 101

The process to take all those photos wasn’t simple. For many evenings, Patman drove around in the dead of night, got down from his car, set up his camera and tripod, and snapped the image, then drove to the next location. All this was done without anyone even aware he was there.

“I wasn’t really comfortable about being seen taking the photos because, well, it’s a kind of weird thing to be doing when you think about it, right?” he told Lost At E Minor.

The collection is part of a bigger series called Lost Collective, wherein Patman explores Sydney’s abandoned and forgotten structures.

We recently spoke to Patman to learn more about Hotel Motel 101.

Please tell us more about yourself. How’d you get into photography?

“My name’s Brett, and I’m an artist/photographer based in Sydney’s Inner West. I started taking photos in 2011, photographing abandoned buildings while I was living in Melbourne. Abandoned and historical buildings are still really at the core of my project, lostcollective.com.

Hotel Motel 101 a fairly different collection to any of the others that I’ve published before. Mostly in the sense that all of the buildings in these photographs are still actively used commercial premises. Everything else I photograph has usually been abandoned for decades and in a pretty advanced state of disrepair.”

Hotel Motel 101

Where did you get the idea to make a series on motels around Sydney?

“It’s an idea I’ve been sitting on for a while; I’m not really sure where it started, I think it’s just my own fascination with motels. I’ve always found them interesting. The curiosity of what all the other people in the motels are doing, where they’re from, where they’re going.

“Motels bring back good childhood memories too, so I guess there’s that emotional connection.

“I love all the personal touches the owners give to each motel that makes them so unique from one to the next, and I think it’s that really the most important thing that I wanted to try and capture.

“There’s also eeriness to these motels which I find pretty interesting. The catalyst that made me get out and finally make this happen was watching Mindhunter and seeing all the different motel rooms that Holden Ford and Bill Tench stay in. It was precisely this that spurred me to start the whole project, and once it got moving it, all came together pretty quickly.”

Hotel Motel 101

Take us through the process. What was it like documenting all those motels?

“The process basically began with me writing a list of all the motels from the beginning of the Hume Highway in Ashfield, all the way to Liverpool. Then I just drove from each one to the next and photographed what I could.

“That first night wasn’t very productive because I went out relatively early, about 7:30, and a lot of people were still active and hanging around their rooms smoking and that kind of thing. I think I only managed to get about five photos that night.

“I wasn’t really comfortable about being seen taking the photos because, well, it’s a kind of weird thing to be doing when you think about it, right? I didn’t want to have to explain myself, and it did cross my mind how some people might react badly if they saw me doing it.

“Also, I think the fact that I mostly shoot abandoned buildings, where I’m trespassing anyway means I tend just to prefer working out of sight out of mind naturally. The next night, I started at about 10 PM and had much more success because it was so much quieter. I ended up staying out until about 3 or 4 AM most nights and just shooting as many motels as I could.”

Hotel Motel 101

What style or aesthetic were you aiming for?

“In terms of actually doing that, it was a pretty simple process. Pull up, look for the best position with no cars in the frame, make sure no one is around, get out of the car, set up the tripod and camera, compose the shot, check to make sure it’s right, and then go. I only took one photo at most of the motels I visited.”

What equipment did you use?

“I used a Nikon D850 with the Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 lens for every shot except one single picture, which I used the Nikkor 14-24MM F/2.8G. I also used a tripod and heaps of coffee.”

Hotel Motel 101

Which motel was most memorable for you?

“The Grandstand Motel in Warwick farm is pretty hard to go past. It’s got long-term residents, some of the rooms are boarded up. It smells like an abandoned building, and there were cats everywhere when I took the photo.

“It’s got a pretty sordid history if you do a bit of Google research. I wasn’t sure it even still operates as a motel because there was no information online and it doesn’t have a website. They do have a phone number though, so I called that and enquired about booking a room. It is $80 for a night or $60 for a half day.”

What are you working on next?

“I’m launching my debut market stall at the Finders Keepers Sydney market, from May 4-6 where I’ll be displaying and selling some of my favourite photographic artworks from Lost Collective.”

Hotel Motel 101

As mentioned, Brett Patman will have his debut market stall at the upcoming Finders Keepers Sydney market at the Barangaroo Cutaway from May 4-6. You can find more about his work by checking out his website.