Thursday, July 5, 2007

Life as a Night Porter by Chris Shaw

For ten years, Chris Shaw worked as a night porter in several London hotels. The chores of a porter on the night shift seem much different from their brethren who see the light of day. There is little time spent carrying bags to rooms, handing over the keys and receiving a few bucks tip. Instead, his energies seem spent on keeping the patrons from having sex in the hallways and alerting the maids when someone has spilled the contents of their stomach on the flower carpeting.

Life as a Night Porter published by Twin Palms in 2006 takes us through an average night shift as we tag along with Chris Shaw.

Shaw’s errands this night are attending to people locked out of their rooms (while naked). Getting that drunk passed out on the bathroom floor back to their room. Keeping an eye out for the hookers. And, oh, there is something wrong with the clothes iron in room 405. To fill the time in-between these tasks, Shaw photographed.

Hookers and limo drivers and the regular hotel staff are all cogs on the same wheel. Somehow the hotel runs and manages to hold onto its fa├žade of exaggerated elegance even though we come to find that depravity has rotted the foundations.

Don’t get the impression that Chris Shaw is any the wiser just because he is the photographer. He is along for the ride as long as it keeps a roof over his head and a few dollars in his pocket.

According to Shaw, he came into this world of working in hotels because, one morning in 1993 he went out ‘to get the papers,’(he liked to drink) and returned two weeks later to find his girlfriend had changed the locks on their apartment. So he got a hotel job.

Shot with a cheap Centon camera, Shaw’s photography is raw and ugly and fits his subject perfectly. Contrasty. Grainy. Unfocused. Dusty. Underexposed. Overdeveloped. Light leaks. Sprocket holes. Badly dodged. Poorly burned. And finally, after the print is processed and dried (archivally of course) the caption is applied via Sharpie marker directly to the paper in his often illegible scrawl.

And what are the captions? Insights into the mind of a night porter.

“Keys like bats…like keys…like bats”

“The staff are always…………..the worst.”

And under one photo of a woman joyfully pulling up her dress to show off her underwear; “One door opens and another one hits you in the face.”

The book is well designed with its oversized format and the printing is as good as the originals would allow. It was printed in an edition of 2000 casebound copies.
If I had one complaint, it would be that the content never quite gets over the top as it hints toward. It seems a little light with 50 pictures and most of those are portraits of the other staff. Seeing that this is a hotel of Shaw’s creation, I want the shift to go on longer. I want it to tire me out so that by the end, I feel like I’ve stayed up all night. It does however suitably suggest that this job is mostly spent fighting off boredom.

As Shaw says: “It is a hotel of my own imagination. In reality, the hotels bear little resemblance to my pictures. It depends on how you look at things. In my experience, heaven and hell are right here on earth – and you can stay in either.”

These pictures are far from the inner circles of hell, but sure enough, they are very distant from heaven as well.

Book Available Here (Life as a Night Porter)