lying on one's face

Self-Portrait in Hotels – by Michiko Ohashi

I was born and raised in Tokyo, which is where I still live – in the downtown area, full of old tenements and traditional coffee shops.

I graduated from junior college specialising in photography, but I didn’t take up a career in photography. At the time, I only took pictures of my cat, and recreational photos when hanging out with my friends. About four years ago, inspired by my husband’s hobby of film photography, I started to take photographs on film again.

Multiple exposure on the stairs
This hotel room had distinctive colors and a staircase, I hadn’t used color negative film in a long time. I took multiple exposures of myself in different poses facing different directions. Pentax LX / SMC Pentax-A Macro 50mm f2.8.

For the first three years, I was mainly taking snapshots with colour negatives. About six months ago I started to develop black and white film at home, and since then I have been shooting mostly in black and white.

It is fun to photograph things which are extraordinary, but it is also fun to try and capture the extraordinary in the ordinary. Hasselblad 500 C/M / Planar 80mm f2.8

About a year ago, on the recommendation of my mental health counsellor, I started staying in a hotel once a month. Initially the aim was to get away from the daily grind and refresh myself. I would bring a portable record player into the hotel and spend the night just listening to it.

Then I decided to try my hand at taking self-portraits, so I brought a tripod into the hotel and started taking pictures of myself. It was an interesting and novel experience, taking pictures of “just me”. I posed myself in whatever way I could think of and took pictures with the self-timer. It was difficult to time the self-timer shots correctly, and sometimes I took multiple shots of the same composition.

I wanted to capture the blur as I was moving my pajamas from the chair. I took about five shots with the same composition; this is the one I like best. Minolta α Sweet II / Minolta 50mm f1.4

My photographic equipment was a Hasselblad and a Pentax LX. My tripod is a heavy Husky or a smaller Gitzo.

sole of foot
The room was very small, so I decided to use an ultra-wide-angle lens for a more dramatic perspective. I thought I’d never seen a self-portrait that focused on the soles of the feet, so I took this shot. I always come up with ideas and poses out of the blue. Pentax LX / Cosina 20mm f3.8
swimming goggles
The hotels had bathrobes. After my bath I decided to put on the swimming goggles I brought, and take a picture with a strong strobe light to make me look like a millionaire in a magazine. Pentax LX / MC Macro-Revuenon 28mm f/2.8

As I continued to shoot, I started to experiment more. Multiple exposures, first time using flash, wide-angle lenses in small rooms. I also started to use small objects. But I have to be careful not to stray too far from “just me”. I’m looking forward to seeing how my approach and style further change with time. In a sense, my self-portraits are a way to get to know myself better.

upside down foot
I usually don’t like the shape of my legs, but when I’m taking self-portraits, I can even take them as “just me” as I want. Pentax LX / SMC Pentax-A Macro 50mm f2.8

My self-portrait series was born out of a desire to simply have fun, a spirit of play. It’s a way to explore who I am, and how I can present myself, in an unfamiliar, unusual room.

Jumping in bed
When I was a child, my mother would scold me if I jumped on my bed. But here I was alone – able to jump to my heart’s content without anyone getting mad at me. Pentax LX / SMC Pentax-A Macro 50mm f2.8
towel dry
Me in the mirror, towel-drying my hair after a shower. Minolta α Sweet II / Minolta 50mm f1.4

In that same spirit, I often take pictures with the kind of gestures that a child would do. My husband once told me that he thinks I sort of transitioned from childhood to being an adult, without getting to fully enjoy my childhood. Maybe I am trying to get back to my child self.

both arms
Pentax LX / MC Macro-Revuenon 28mm f/2.8

Thanks for reading. If you’re interested, I have more photos from this series (and others) on my Instagram.

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41 thoughts on “Self-Portrait in Hotels – by Michiko Ohashi”

      1. It’s a great project!
        I was surprised at the picture of the headline.
        I have little experience with color photography, but I think color photography is good for photography like William Eggleston.
        However, this picture of the headline feels the world view of the cinematographer Roger Deakins.
        Please continue this project.

  1. Hi Michiko, thanks for sharing your inspiring story and these images. They are all very interesting – well done on your return to film!

  2. This is a great photo-essay – funny, charming and personal, while maintaining a little mystery. The multiple exposure on the stairs is my favourite, but I love the whole set.

    1. Great comment, Clive 🙂 “funny, charming and personal, while maintaining a little mystery” – you’ve hit upon the things I like best about this series. And I feel like the writing matches the photography too; all your descriptors could apply to both.

  3. Michiko,
    The late, beloved drummer Charlie Watts (himself an artist) sketched every hotel room he stayed in while on every tour with The Rolling Stones beginning in 1962. Perhaps you’re both kindered spirits?
    Your first pic in color perfectly sums up what it feels like grappling with Covid-19! Well done.

  4. “…it is also fun to try and capture the extraordinary in the ordinary”

    You’ve definitely nailed it here.. 🙂

  5. Fantastic photos. The thinking going into the idea for a shot, then the setup and the final execution. -Then add the wonderful story to surround the package. Love it. WOW

    I’m amazed and have thought about this through out the day.
    Hope you received the healing, inspiration you were seeking from the monthly visits.
    Best wishes from the Pacific Northwest (PNW) in USA
    (Love the arms from the bedcovers)

    1. It makes me happy to think that there are people far away from Japan who are watching me like that. Thank you very much.I like the photo of my arm, and I use it on my page on Facebook.

  6. Great stuff Michiko. These are both fun and moving.

    I spent 21 days in quarantine in October due to the frigging absurd regulations in HK. One the ways in which I kept my sanity was a daily self-portrait. I did them on digital, because analog seemed too hard and I wanted to not have to wait a month to see the results. It was an enlightening experience, both creatively and photographically. I have all the more admiration for your work here !!!

    1. Thank you, I am honored.
      Your isolation in Hong Kong was a very painful experience. Your self-portrait at that time must have been a different picture from your usual time. I hope you will have a chance to present them somewhere.

  7. I genuinely enjoy the pictures and reading, beautiful work behind the concept of staying “alone” once in a month away from home, keeping away from the daily life stressors and routine chores. I think your pictures are really simple, but the “self-portrait” content is widely explored beyond the new normal “selfie” as given with digital photography through smartphones. Incredible and simple form to explore visual art and self-portrait. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Yes, unlike “selfie” taken with a smartphone, my “self-portrait” are taken with the feeling of capturing my heart along with me.
      Thank you, I will continue to take pictures as long as I can enjoy them.

  8. I read your article some time ago and was impressed – a good idea and well executed. I rediscovered the article again when I was searching for articles on Pentax LX, glad to hear you are using one.

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