Chris Rhodes’ first photobook is a nostalgic ode to the everyday
A quiet compilation of the ‘self-made landscapes’ created by absent subjects, Hotel Mermaid Club is a love letter to the unremarkable
Engaging with Chris Rhodes’ images means finding romance in the mundanity performed by his subjects: sometimes a faded floral lampshade, elsewhere a dirty gold letterbox. Frequently enveloped in natural sunlight and typically modest in composition, this found beauty exists in contrast to the photographer’s initial introduction to the medium, which he summarises as being mostly about the mechanics – ‘the technologic process, the idea of freezing a moment that could not be captured by the eye’ – than anything specifically artistic.
Informed early on by the work of Joel Sternfeld and Simone Nieweg, it was a similarly pragmatic approach that saw him switching from larger formats to 35mm, a move which subsequently shaped the aesthetic that won over fans like including fashion heavyweights Gucci and Helmut Lang. Away from a coveted client list, it’s his personal work – much of it shot across the globe while on assignment for said list – that has amplified his production and led to Hotel Mermaid Club: his debut imprint published by RVB Books, and a correlating show at Webber Gallery, now open until 20 December.
The move to a more lightweight apparatus (on which much of the project was shot), he explains, allowed ‘me to see differently. The camera became a purpose on my short term explorations. It wasn’t a conscious decision or something that I deliberated on. It’s completely impulsive and instinctive.’ This machinery’s attributes are mirrored in the more concrete characteristics of his operation too, as he tells Wallpaper*, ‘I wouldn’t say the creation of photography in terms of image making is overly consuming. I work very freely. Over the years I have taken trips purely to make work, however I was never fully satisfied with these images. I used to take photographs every day, even when I didn’t feel like taking photographs, but over time I have learnt to only photograph when I feel the need.’
If Hotel Mermaid Club looks familiar, it’s because the book has been in the making for several years, while an earlier public showing of the work took place at Webber in 2017, comprising 15 photographs (today’s edition nears 55). ‘The original show was more of a testing ground, and ultimately led to the completion of the book,’ Rhodes explains. ‘Hotel Mermaid Club was a working title – from a building sign in Tokyo. When I was reviewing the images the bizarre translation felt absurd, almost like a state of being. It became more relevant when I started to sequence the project.’ Invariably in a Hotel Mermaid Club frame of mind, a second volume is apparently already near to being completed. §