Capturing the Hotel Room Through Sophie Calle’s Camera

Capturing the Hotel Room Through Sophie Calle’s Camera
A page from Sophie Calle's The Hotel. Photo credits: Siglio (December 7, 2021)

French artist and photographer Sophie Calle documents unmade hotel rooms in her book "The Hotel"

Priyanka Kapoor
February 28 , 2023
02 Min Read

In 1981, Sophie Calle was hired as a temporary chambermaid in a Venetian hotel. In the course of her cleaning duties, she documented her experiences with the remnants of the traveller long gone. Her book, The Hotel, is about unmade beds, forgotten postcards, garments left behind, and scribbled notes in the hotel room wastebasket.

Hardbound copy of The Hotel. Photo credits: Siglio (December 7, 2021)


As an artist and photographer, Sophie presents many black-and-white photographs and a “diary” that records the 12 rooms she had been cleaning daily for three weeks.

Capturing the Transient Journey of the Traveller

“Rather than erase the residue of human presence, as a “real” maid is expected to, Calle does the opposite, preserving every stain and scrap as a sign or symbol,” writes Lili Owen for The New Yorker. Owen further relates this form of “art” with “proximate ethnography” that began to rise in the 90s with mass tourism.

As an artist, Calle captures the traveller’s experience and their relationship with their travel to foreign places. For instance, she’d find objects like “framed photos, slippers, a hot-water bottle” that people carry to feel at home outside home. Unsurprisingly, such objects were the common belonging of many travellers that Calle came across, adding to unique documentation of the everyday traveller experience.

A page from Sophie Calle's The Hotel. Credit: Siglio (December 7, 2021)

Life of Objects Left Behind

If you’ve ever wondered about your favourite pair of socks that you left behind in a hotel, Sophie Calle’s The Hotel is the book for you. Offering unique documentation, Calle gives us a peek into the world of lost objects that may otherwise live in the traveller’s memory alone.

Her documentation, although controversial, is highly imaginative. In what she calls “archaeology of the present,” Calle attempts an interpretive dialogue with the barest of fragments: ticket stubs, torn stockings, wastebasket notes, orange peels etc.

Sophie Calle is known for many artistic enterprises. Her book “Take care of yourself” is the most famous among these. It was France’s official entry for the 2007 Venice Biennale art exhibition.


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