Motels are mysterious. Carved into the American imagination, these by-the-road pit stops with bright neon signs glaring out of the vast darkness between clusters of city lights are in turns places of anonymous rendezvous, murders in the making, or family bickering during forced vacations. Photographer Chas Ray Krider has used this many-sided archetype for a running series of work, “Motel Fetish,” which has resulted in three books, Motel Fetish, Do Not Disturb, and Dirty Rendezvous, that chronicle his noir world of vintage lingerie, women, and that nowhere place between home and destination where anything can happen.
“Much of 20th century America myth is about the open road,” explained Krider. “Everyone has been in a motel room, the locale is familiar, which lends itself as a good setting for story telling. The motel room needs no set up. Things happen there: what goes on behind closed doors? Mystery is built in. With Motel Fetish, I used the motel room motif as a means to allow the viewer to suspend disbelief for moment, the images within could have actually happened.”
And now, after two decades, the series has run its course—the Motel is turning off the vacancy sign. The final flash will burst on September 23 with a party and live shoot on the Motel Fetish set.
“The concept was played out sometime ago. The Motel ceased to be a vehicle for expression and became somewhat of a brand. I kept the method of working going though. The concept of the Motel book is a narrative with a cinematic structure. The images look like they could be stills lifted from a film. There is a story being told. It is not a book of retro pin-up photos; that is mere surface,” reflected Krider. “At its best the Motel work is classic noir with surrealist overtones, yet utterly contemporary. One more note: I have always tried to distance my work from the notion of the work being dirty. It is ironic that the last book would be titled Dirty. Perhaps the work always was and I didn’t realize I had slipped off the edge? In the very beginning as I began the motel images, a friend said to me, ‘Make it dangerous.’ In other words take chances, don’t play it safe. That became one of my mantras. I want to thank all the women who have worked with me for also taking chances, big chances.”
While not a trained photographer, Krider was drawn to art as a young adult, looking for something still in a moving world. “After graduating I bummed around the county, kind of ‘on the road,’ looking for something to hook onto, to get fully engaged. At the time everything seemed transitory, nothing was permanent. It came to me that art was a thing that endured. This may sound naive, but what I was looking for was a vehicle to transport me across time and space, and art became that vehicle.”
It was on another road trip, during the suspension of time between high school and college, that Krider took his first memorable image.
“This may sound strange. After high school a pal and I drove to Florida. I had a Kodak Hawkeye instamatic camera, just open the back and drop in a film cartridge. One day we went to a low-rent sea world type of show. There was a small pool with dolphins swimming around,’’ he recalled. “Now I swear this happened; a dolphin swam up to me, stuck its head out of the water, and telepathically said to me, ‘Take my picture.’ I did. After I returned home and I saw the developed picture, it was perfect. A smiling dolphin surrounded by aqua green water. It was magic. Maybe that was when I became fascinated with images.”
With the closing of this chapter of his artistic life, Krider has, once again, the open road ahead of him.
“Truthfully I have no set plan. I’ll be like Jules in Pulp Fiction being like Caine in Kung Fu, I’m just going to walk the earth, wait for an epiphany.”
Motel Vivant celebrates the end of an era on September 23 with a live shoot on the Motel Fetish set, music, and memorabilia. The event takes place at the Warehouse and patrons are asked to RSVP to Muse Gallery, (614) 565-0314.