October 03, 2004

Bataille, brothels & photography

Bettina Rheim's work Chambre Close, 2002, has affinities with Bataille and his experience of French brothels in the 1930s. The literary conceit of this work is of 19th-century erotica, in which a staid banker-type has a secret obsession to photograph young girls in anonymous hotel rooms.

Bettina Rheim

The notes to the exhibition give the outlines of the project:

"In the manuscript devised by Serge Bramly to go with the series of Bettina Rheims's photographs, Mr X is a city-dweller whose ordinary and quiet life seesaws secretly the day he decides to let himself be guided by his long term pent-up urges. Pressed on by a sudden and invasive sexual desire, Mr X approaches young women at random during his daily encounters, without any precise aesthetic criteria and guided solely by their sensuality. Passing himself off as a photographer, he has them pose, one by one, in minuscule hotel's bedrooms against the printed coloured wallpaper, on dubious bed-spreads.

If Mr X feels an ardent desire, an irrepressible attraction for the woman he approaches, the desire is annihilated at the time of the shot. A voyeur becoming photographer, his sexual desire emerges as merely visual appetite, the affair is [then] more visual than carnal [anymore]. From the initial voyeurism of Mr X., the photographed woman's exhibitionism follows, this contradicts her modesty and the taboos that oppressed it, frees her to be revealed completely, confessing to the photographer as to a priest."


Rheim's concern with getting all the elements of each photograph exactly right extended to having hotel rooms in New York redecorated to look like the French hotels in Chambre Close.

From what I can gather this was done when Madonna asked Rheims to photograph her in such a setting but said she could not find the time to go to France. Rheims scoured Paris to buy the wallpaper she wanted, and took it with her to the United States.

An article on brothels by a male who lived his life in them and who is familar with the seedy rooms of English brothels. Some discussion of the article.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at October 3, 2004 08:50 PM | TrackBack

Thank you, I have been searching for this picture for many years.

Posted by: Ada on October 7, 2004 11:33 PM
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