Stan­dard rooms in 32 coun­tries are vari­a­tions on a theme.

A pho­tog­ra­pher cap­tures 32 Hil­ton ho­tel rooms in as many coun­tries

The Washington Post Sunday - - TRAVEL - BY RE­BECCA POW­ERS Pow­ers is a writer based in Detroit. Her web­site is re­bec­ca­pow­ers.com. travel@wash­post.com

In cities around the world, ho­tel rooms — with their car­pets show­ing the fresh tracks of a house­keep­ing vac­uum and their vents ex­hal­ing tem­per­a­ture-con­trolled air — await the ar­rival of strangers. Still. Tidy. Blank. En­ter Swiss pho­tog­ra­pher Roger Eber­hard, who spent a year doc­u­ment­ing 32 Hil­ton ho­tel rooms in 32 coun­tries. The re­sult: a post­card, of sorts, in the form of “Stan­dard,” a book that’s as quiet as a read­ied room.

In its 88 pages of re­strained graphic de­sign and min­i­mal text, the book, pub­lished by Schei­deg­ger & Spiess in Fe­bru­ary, takes read­ers on a jour­ney of deja vu.

Eber­hard says he has long been in­trigued with the idea that we travel the world and yet stay in a place that looks like ev­ery­where else. That in­ter­est drew him to the Hil­ton chain, whose founder, the late Con­rad Hil­ton, once de­scribed each Hil­ton In­ter­na­tional prop­erty as a “lit­tle Amer­ica.” That mid 20th-cen­tury ap­proach was in­tended, at least in part, to show­case cap­i­tal­ism on a global scale.

In 2015, Eber­hard set out across five con­ti­nents, al­ways stay­ing in a stan­dard Hil­ton room, where he pho­tographed each in­te­rior from the same per­spec­tive. He also took an ac­com­pa­ny­ing snap­shot of the view from the guest-room win­dow.

In the book, the paired photos are dis­played on fac­ing pages, a for­mat that gives read­ers the sense of be­ing fre­quent trav­el­ers as they flip pages, paus­ing briefly in lo­cales barely dis­cernible from one an­other. Bed pillows are plumped, their po­si­tions vary­ing slightly from dou­ble-stacked to propped. Wall col­ors and draperies change, but the at­mos­phere re­mains strik­ingly sim­i­lar.

As Franziska Solte notes in one of three “Stan­dard” es­says, “The guest room core el­e­ments have not changed since the 1950s.”

The city views di­vulge few clues as to the rooms’ lo­ca­tions. (Read­ers must turn to the back cover to dis­cover where they are, which makes for a geo­graphic guess­ing game.) There is some ev­i­dence. Lan­guages vary on bill­boards, for ex­am­ple. And there are hints of hu­man­ity in the panora­mas: laun­dry hang­ing on a line in Lima, Peru; a lone man at a bus shel­ter in Reyk­javik, Iceland. There’s also a barely vis­i­ble Ken­tucky Fried Chicken in a Mex­ico City shot. Case in point.

Like the pho­to­graphs, the book’s es­says ex­am­ine the ubiq­uity of one-night homes. Does the same­ness serve a pur­pose, much like the prac­ti­cal­ity of a travel wardrobe? Or does it re­flect a grow­ing global monotony?

Eber­hard, 32, spoke with The Wash­ing­ton Post via FaceTime from his home in a small vil­lage near Zurich.

Q: What was the seed of this project? A: I’ve al­ways been fas­ci­nated by places that are built ac­cord­ing to a for­mula, by places that lead to a func­tion with­out you real­iz­ing that the en­vi­ron­ment is dic­tat­ing your be­hav­ior — like the Star­bucks phe­nom­e­non. There are Star­bucks all over the world and you know ex­actly how to be­have. You know ex­actly where to get the sugar, where to get the milk. Ir­ish bars look ev­ery­where the same in the world. They’re all called James Joyce or Fin­negans Wake or Dublin­ers, and it makes me feel un­easy. They seem like lit­tle traps, and we’re con­stantly fall­ing for them.

Q: In the rooms you vis­ited, did you find the 1950s “lit­tle Amer­ica” con­cept of Con­rad Hil­ton? Or, all th­ese years later, could they as eas­ily be a lit­tle Ger­many? A: What does it re­ally mean, a lit­tle Amer­ica, th­ese days? All of the Western world is quite sim­i­lar, cer­tainly in de­sign as­pects. I don’t re­ally see a big dif­fer­ence be­tween an Amer­i­can de­sign or a Ger­man de­sign nowa­days, when it comes to per­son­al­ity in ho­tel rooms.

Q: The con­cept of “Stan­dard” is a lit­tle sad, es­pe­cially as it ap­plies to the sim­i­lar­ity of the ho­tel-win­dow views. A: It’s not a nos­tal­gic project. It’s a fact that more and more uni­for­mity is be­ing cre­ated.

Q: Did you reach a con­clu­sion? Do we have an in­nate need for fa­mil­iar­ity, per­ceived safety and se­cu­rity? Why do we eat at a

McDon­ald’s in Mu­nich, for ex­am­ple? A: We like to get what we ex­pect. We don’t like sur­prises, es­pe­cially when trav­el­ing to a for­eign coun­try. It’s a com­plete irony.

Q: There is that mo­ment, how­ever, when you exit the ho­tel lobby and you feel the hu­mid­ity or smell the diesel ex­haust and hear the noises. A: I love that mo­ment when the world hits you, when you get this re­al­ity check.

Q: You’ve said that Bangkok was one of your fa­vorite lo­ca­tions for pho­tograph­ing the win­dow view. A: It’s a city that’s too big to re­ally grasp. It looks like it’s grow­ing al­most in dif­fer­ent parts. It’s a wild city. Low build­ings sort of look old and shabby and th­ese shiny sky­scrapers are be­ing built. And this high train is run­ning through the im­age. It has ev­ery­thing.

Q: What type of cam­era did you use? A: A Mamiya with a dig­i­tal back.

Q: What do you seek out now in the way of ac­com­mo­da­tions? A: I like small, quaint ho­tels that of­fer a de­cent stan­dard. I like it when the per­son in the lobby is also the owner and we get lit­tle tips for the city and it feels a lit­tle bit fam­ily. I don’t think I ever stayed in a Hil­ton be­fore the project. It’s ex­tremely cool that you can come down [to the lobby] and what­ever you want, what­ever you wish for, they never say no. It’s quite as­tound­ing. For the project, I had to have the bed on the right. I came to the re­cep­tion desk. I said, “Lis­ten. I’m a very dif­fi­cult guest. I need a room with a bed on the right.” I never ex­plained what I was do­ing. Some­times I changed my room five, six, seven times. I’m sure they’ve had cra­zier re­quests in their ca­reers than the bed on the right-hand side. But still, 32 coun­tries in one year and not once, no one said “no” or “why.”

Q: Have you had feed­back on the book? A: It makes peo­ple feel un­easy. That’s the most com­mon re­ac­tion. They ex­pected a lot more di­ver­sity. Know­ing that ev­ery time they look at a room in a dif­fer­ent coun­try they can­not see that they’re in a dif­fer­ent coun­try, ex­cept in Hanoi with the funny wall­pa­per. We have this ro­man­tic no­tion of the world be­ing a di­verse place.

Q: There’s the ex­pres­sion, “Stop the world, I want to get off.” A: Stan­dard­iza­tion: There’s some­thing fright­en­ing about it.

Q: The movie “Lost in Trans­la­tion” comes to mind. A: A lot of the emo­tion in what [di­rec­tor] Sofia Cop­pola did dealt with a ster­ile en­vi­ron­ment that you have to fill with your own emo­tional state. And there’s a vac­uum that comes about in th­ese places. Even though it wasn’t an in­spi­ra­tion, I could re­late to the feel­ing it con­veys.

Q: In his es­say, Bene­dict Wells writes that when he was trav­el­ing a great deal, the same­ness of rooms made him feel lonely. A: I agree with him in a way, a room is lack­ing any­thing per­sonal. It’s, to a de­gree, quite ster­ile and doesn’t give you much warmth. It pro­vides you with a home, but there’s noth­ing that re­ally re­flects you. That can in­ten­sify the feel­ing of lone­li­ness. But I don’t re­ally feel lonely in ho­tel rooms.

Q: Do you still have the feel­ing of ex­cite­ment when you first en­ter a room? A: It’s al­most like a game, time to find th­ese things: Aha, here’s the arm­chair with the lamp right next to it. There’s the pen. The re­cur­ring items that need to be in the ho­tel room in or­der to make peo­ple feel at home, things that peo­ple re­quire. Ev­ery­thing is so per­fectly mea­sured and neatly ar­ranged. It was a fun game.

Q: Did you have a fa­vorite ob­ject in the rooms? A: The alarm clock. I know peo­ple steal all sorts of things. I didn’t steal any­thing. But if there’s one thing I would have wanted, it would have been the Hil­ton alarm clock.

PHOTOS BY ROGER EBER­HARD

FROM TOP: The land­scape of Cape Town, South Africa, and its cor­re­spond­ing Hil­ton ho­tel room, are con­trasted with the cityscape of Panama City and its cor­re­spond­ing Hil­ton ho­tel. In his book “Stan­dard,” pho­tog­ra­pher Roger Eber­hard aims to show­case cap­i­tal­ism on a global scale by jux­ta­pos­ing the sim­i­lar­i­ties of the chain’s rooms against the very dif­fer­ent lo­cales out­side.

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