Photographs of Cheap Motels in 1970s America

Mike Mandel's photographs of "economy" motels in 1970s America

“I love going out of my way, beyond what I know, and finding my way back a few extra miles, by another trail, with a compass that argues with the map… nights alone in motels in remote western towns where I know no one and no one I know knows where I am, nights with strange paintings and floral spreads and cable television that furnish a reprieve from my own biography…”

— Rebecca Solnit, A Field Guide to Getting Lost

 

Mid-Century Motels USA

 

Working on the Baseball Photographer Trading Cards, traveling throughout the country, my girlfriend at the time, Alison Woolpert, and I would stay at some, shall we say, “economy” motels, writes photographer Mike Mandel. We pulled into one in Texas on a wintry night and upon waking in the morning we realized that the sheets had not been changed after the visit of the previous motel guest. When we indignantly complained to the owner he shot us back a dirty look, “What do you expect for five dollars?” What we did expect was that no matter how shabby, beaten down or forgotten a motel might have become, there was always a motel postcard to be had: a memento of a one night stop, a promotional calling card, a free mailable note card to report back on the progress of a vacation to those back home.

 

Mid-Century Motels USA

 

We would often take the back roads, sometimes follow old Route 66, and we would find those sad, forsaken motels that had been sucked almost out of existence by the newer corporate chains situated just off an exit ramp on the newer highways. We bypassed Motel 6, Travelodge and Howard Johnson’s. After all, their postcards were usually just the same design with a different address. But we’d go out of our way to stop at every independent motel we could find in hopes of finding a postcard that would be even more banal than the one we had just found down the road.

This led, inevitably, to my photographing the motels themselves: interiors, pool sides and architecture. The project was always there whenever there was an opportunity to travel. The postcards kept piling up. My only problem with the photographs was that I was usually shooting black and white film, which just didn’t capture the true flavor of the place.

 

Mid-Century Motels USA

Mid-Century Motels USA

 

I suggested to Larry that we ought to make a “Boring Postcard” book, the motels could be just one chapter. But after Evidence he didn’t feel it had the conceptual breadth to come next. Years later he asked me, “Why didn’t you fight harder for us to make this book? We could have beaten Martin Parr by 20 years!” As I remind my daughter, who is eight years old as of this writing, “It’s not a competition.” The postcards and the photos have found their way here. But the motels, for all I know, are probably long gone.

 

Mid-Century Motels USA Mid-Century Motels USA

Mid-Century Motels USA Mid-Century Motels USA
Mid-Century Motels USA Mid-Century Motels USA Mid-Century Motels USA Mid-Century Motels USA Mid-Century Motels USA Mid-Century Motels USA Mid-Century Motels USA Mid-Century Motels USA Mid-Century Motels USA Mid-Century Motels USA Mid-Century Motels USA Mid-Century Motels USA Mid-Century Motels USA

 

Via: Mike Mandel

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