Saturday, September 3, 2011
A long way down the US housing ladder, beneath the grisly ‘projects’ of The Wire and the trailer parks hymned by Eminem, beneath the slums of New Orleans and the ghettos of Detroit, you’ll find the long-stay hotel.
Cheap, not very cheerful, and pretty much a last resort, these institutions provide four walls and a roof, for a few hundred bucks a month. It’s some of the cheapest accommodation you’ll find anywhere in the US, aside from a cardboard box.
Long-stay hotels can be found in almost every major American city. They offer none of the privacy of trailer parks, and even less of the permanency. Guests make do with postage stamp-sized rooms, paper-thin walls, and nylon sheets. You’ll rarely find them listed in tourist guides, even the section of a Lonely Planet devoted to ‘rock-bottom dives’. Staying in one isn’t exactly what you might call a holiday. It is, however, an experience. So says Kalpesh Lathigra, whose compelling photo-essay on the Wilmington Hotel in Long Beach, Southern California, is published on these pages.
A British documentary photographer, he stumbled upon the place while looking up relatives during a family holiday to Los Angeles (it is owned by his uncle, Bachu), and has since re-visited for extended periods, building close relationships with its most colourful and well-established residents.
“The hotel is one of those places with a feel that you know just has to be recorded,” he says. “There’s something in the ether. I remember walking in for the first time, and straight away realising that it had this weird character that cried out to be photographed.