intimate portraits of young people in japanese love hotels

The Dutch photographer Mila van der Linden has a soft spot for neon lights and taboos.

by Lianne Kersten
15 November 2017, 10:53pm

Although her previous series about strippers in LA and this series in Japanese 'love hotels' suggest otherwise, the Dutch photographer Mila van der Linden is not particularly interested in the sex industry. It is rather the taboos around some sexual subjects that intrigue her and that she wants to break open with her work. That is why she prefers to take her camera to anonymous and discreet places whose doors normally remain closed, which often leads to surprising new friendships. For example, she built up a band in LA with the strippers of strip club Cheetahs and she befriended Tokyo in Tokyo with two young Japanese she met in a store. She decided to photograph them in Tokyo's love hotels, the hotels where you can rent rooms that are specially designed for a few hours of fun, and thus represent a good representation of Japan's huge sex industry.

Her way of working is spontaneous and impulsive: she often speaks to her subjects on the street and appears to be clicking quickly. This time too, when they decided to rent a room and hold a photo shoot after one night. The result is a beautifully unpolished and intimate series shot in a city that, according to Mila, is full of tangible sexual contradictions. We called her to discuss her new work, which she made together with girlfriend Morrison Schiffmacher.

iD: Hi Mila. What fascinated you about Japan?
Mila: I found the phenomenon 'love hotel' very interesting for years. When we walked around in Tokyo, we immediately noticed the enormous contrast that prevails in the area of sex. Sex is a taboo, but at the same time continuous in your face. Tokyo is full of love hotels and maid cafes. So sex is omnipresent, but most of the young Japanese I have met do not talk about it. Hiroyuki and Maina, the boy and the girl from the shoot, had never been in a love hotel. While I and Morrison immediately thought: such a room you can book with your friends for an after. They would never do that.

How did you get to know Hiroyuki and Maina?
I met them in a store in the Shibuya district and thought they looked very interesting. Then I just addressed them and in fact, despite the language barrier, it immediately clicked. With Maina we were quite 'lost in translation', but by coincidence we all had a golden name chain - we could laugh at that. I could not explain my ideas as I normally can do to models, but this worked really well because we were completely at the same level and especially had a lot of fun. We then went out for dinner and got very drunk together.

Do you speak to the people you want to shoot more often on the street?
I prefer not to scout models via Instagram - that you only meet each other on the shoot day, that does not work for me. I see my relationship with the person I photograph in the picture, so it is precisely that personal connection that I think is important. I really want to get to know the people I'm photographing better. As a result, I often think of work between fashion photography and documentary photography. With the strippers from LA, for example, I am still friends. It is not just about a beautiful image, but about the character behind it.

What intrigues you to the sex industry?
I find it interesting to explain different aspects of sexuality with my work. Especially to show the perspectives in other countries in this way. This creates a conversation. Sex is too often taboo, while it is such a big part of society. And I'm a sucker for neon lights - I love that vulgar. And often that does belong to that world.

This article originally appeared on i-D NL.