Working as a chambermaid for the Hotel C. in Venice, Italy, Sophie Calle stashes her camera and tape recorder in her mop bucket, so that as she cleans and tidies, she can also sort through the evidence of the hotel guests’ lives. Assigned twelve rooms on the fourth floor, she surveys the state of the guests’ bedding, their books, newspapers and postcards, perfumes and cologne, traveling clothes and costumes for Carnival. She methodically photographs the contents of closets and suitcases, examining the detritus in the rubbish bin and the toiletries arranged on the washbasin. She discovers their birth dates and blood types, diary entries, letters from and photographs of lovers and family. She eavesdrops on arguments and love-making. She retrieves a pair of shoes from the wastebasket and takes two chocolates from a neglected box of sweets, while leaving behind stashes of money, pills, and jewelry. Her thievery is the eye of the camera, observing the details that were not meant for her, or us, to see.
Like her other conceptual projects rooted in surveillance and almost forensic-like observation, The Hotel is one of Calle’s most provocative works, raising questions about our curiosity about the private lives of others and our assumption of our own privacy, about what selected artifacts of our own lives might reveal rightly or wrongly about us, and about how we navigate the known and unknown in lives partially revealed.
The Hotel now manifests as a single, standalone book for the first time in English (it was previously included in the 1999 book Double Game, now long out of print). In collaboration with Calle on a completely new design, Siglio has included larger, enhanced reproductions as well as a number of previously unpublished photographs in The Hotel.