I found Patric Fouads images of German brothel interiors by accident when I bought an edition of Design Week in 2005. The gaudy kitschness and the definite inimitable style of the spaces combined with their function is intriguing. I tore the article out of the mag all those years ago and kept it along with so much other female related material…
Amazon, who sells Fouad’s book “Frauenzimmer”, writes about the book:
Since 2001, prostitution is no longer illegal in Germany. Patric Fouad gives us rare insights into the interiors of eleven rooms of brothels all over Germany. The photographer left the places he saw unchanged in order to allow the most authentic view of the scene. Despite the absence of any human beings, the interiors speak for themselves: The pompous elegance of some and the imaginative or reduced decoration of others suggest the wishes of the clientele that is being served. The candid images are strong in their impact and yet subtle in their implications. By leaving out the main characters, the viewer’s imagination and curiosity is increased even further. A high quality coffee-table book of a different kind.
The article in Design Weekly from 10 February 2005, written by Clare Dowdy, reads:
Sex is everywhere. Harmony has a licensed sex shop on London’s Oxford Street, Hustler has opened a “department store” in Birmingham and has its sights set on the major European cities; Ann Summers is planning to open outlets in Spain; and Selfridges-based sex toy retailer Tabooboo has 60 vending machines in bars and clubs across the UK and stores planned for the continent. Even venerable high street chemist Boots the Chemists briefly mooted giving vibrators shelf space alongside shampoos and verucca treatments.
All this in-you-face activity around Europe is the result of our increasingly relaxed attitude towards sex (think Sex And The City) and legislation that is gradually being relaxed. A recent development in Germany is the legalisation of prostitution, which came into force in 2001. This- in theory at least- means selling sex is now like any other business and should be treated as such. Hard to swallow, but Patric Fouad’s photographs go some war to persuading us of that. There are around 400 000 practising prostitutes in Germany, with more than half offering services in brothels. Fouad, who was born in Düsseldorf, has chosen to shoot the interiors of 11 of these venues as you might shoot a restaurant or retail environment. “I wanted to make these rooms accessible to the public, especially women,” he explains. What started out as a thesis project for the University of Applied Sciences in Dortmund has ended up as a coffee-table book: Frauenzimmer, Brothels in Germany. Its title is a (German) play on words: archaic German for woman, Frauenzimmer’s literal meaning is “women’s rooms”.
Despite their new-found legitimacy, Fouad had to go to considerable lengths to get access. It all started with an intense internet search- no mean feat considering that many of the brothels are registered via paysites that require a log-in. Contact details of the operators were also supplied through journalists and social workers. Then it was a case of calling the patrons up and persuading them to agree to the photo shoot. “I tried various strategies, using different choices of wording,” he says. “Usually, after a brief moment of hesitation, they agreed.” And on location he was given a warm welcome.
As with many images of retail interiors, these are people-free zones, Fouad was not in the business of taking portraits and wanted the rooms to speak to themselves. “There are so many details, colours, patterns that repeatedly appear in the various bordellos and give an idea of the people who decorate and live in them,” he says. Clues to the nature of the room’s occupants include PVC novelties pinned to the wall and a pair of kitten heels by the bed. By shooting all the rooms, where possible, from the same angle, Fouad has presented us with a succession of comparable images. This gives the scenes a nice coherence and helps to concentrate the viewer’s eye. With their curtained or blacked-out windows, all illumination is artificial. As Fouad was determined to shoot these places in all their naked glory, there was minimal additional lighting and no styling. “Naturally, a well-kept room contributes to the image of the house and is therefore important to the owner as well as to the prostitute,” he points out.
While it doesn’t appear that these have had the interior design consultants in, they do display some rules of thumb concerning aesthetics and layout. Unsurprisingly , the main attraction is the bed, though it might surprise the uninitiated that many are single rather than double. This is because half the rooms featured were in the houses for “occasional traffic” or clubs. As well as the gadgetry, walls are adorned with mostly tacky art showing ladies in provocative poses. Meanwhile, the paraphernalia of the profession (lubricants, tissues and such like) stand brazenly by the bed. When it comes to aesthetics, red and pink dominate. In fact, all the colour combinations would make John Pawson followers reach for the bucket. Some of the rooms share common features, clearly a case of the owner getting a job lot of items such as bedspreads or lamps.
Frauenzimmer mixes images of decadence with those of mean cheapness, demonstrating both spectrums of the “profession”. As a book it works on two levels: an insight into a hidden world and a set of interiors images. Either way, it’s intriguing stuff.