Local photography offers hotel guests vivid narrative
Local photography offers hotel guests vivid narrative
18 JULY 2019 8:32 AM

Painted art and sculpture in hotels can be joyous to see, but photography adds more localness, topicality and travel flavor to help hotels to stand out from the competition.

LONDON—Displaying photography in hotels can create a direct link between the hotel’s design choices and guests’ aspirations and travel desires, according to sources.

Photos of people, landscape, cultural traditions and wildlife can more immediately provide a sense of place and a travel narrative than perhaps paintings, sculpture, ceramics and other art forms, sources added.

Elinor Olisa, co-founder of Degree Art, an online art gallery that sells, rents and commissions art, said good photography is becoming more accessible to businesses such as hotels.

The art market can be tricky to negotiate, and quality, framed photography is a tangible and generally expensive object, although mostly not as expensive as painted art, she said.

One of her latest projects was working with London’s 161-room Bankside Hotel, an independent affiliated with Marriott International’s soft brand Autograph Collection.

“We were part of (the hotel) before it launched, working with the interior designer, not only regarding artwork, but also its legacy program. It has an artist in residence and conducts workshops. It is such a great way of involving artists in a very natural way that resonates with guests,” she said.

Olisa has worked with the London-based World Photography Organization, which runs an annual competition for both professionals and amateurs and students, the photos of the 2018 winners now touring hotels run by Dorsett Hotels.

The exhibit started at the Dorsett Shepherds Bush, London, and soon expanded to a world tour of other Dorsett hotels, including those in Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai and Singapore, where the work currently is being displayed.

Jill Cotton, public relations and communications director at the WPO, said the contest also included national categories, which allow hoteliers to be more aware of talent local to their properties.

“Compared with other art forms, photography is more accessible. Its price point is accessible, and also has the artistry needed,” she said.

Cotton said Dorsett reached out to the WPO, not the other way around.

“When we met with them, there was a synergy, and they were particularly interested with artists who coincided with where they have hotels,” she said.

This photo by Yavor Michev was a winner in the World Photography Organisation’s Bulgarian national awards. (Photo: World Photography Organisation)

Bringing it home
Another hotel-industry connection with photography is the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize 2019, with a first prize of £15,000 ($19,500).

Richard Bursby, partner at legal firm Taylor Wessing, which specializes in hotels and leisure, said art is integral to the culture of the firm, which has sponsored the National Portrait Gallery Photographic Portrait Prize since 2008.

“The photographic entries challenge our assumed perspectives of the world, which is exactly what we need to keep us thinking in new and original ways and encouraging creativity and innovation in all its forms,” he said.

Bursby said photographs can enhance guests’ stay at hotels.

“‘Location, location, location’ used to be the mantra for any hotel. Now it is ‘local, local, local’ as guests seek an authentic and curated experience (that) reflects its environs. We live in an Instagram world, and photos are much better than more traditional art media at instantly and contemporaneously capturing the culture, atmosphere and spirit of a local community,” he said.

That localness is a positive spiral, the WTO’s Cotton said.

“People who otherwise who would not see (local photographers’) work can see their work, and we never know what will come out of that. Hotel guests come from around the world, and they can see a single image that tells them 1,000 words. That is very powerful and emotive,” she said.

Photography is inspirational, she added.

“Photography often feels a little more tangible. We do not think twice about taking a selfie, even though most of them would never get to auction,” she said.

For hotels, the benefit is less tangible, but no less clear.

“Art is a way you can stand out from the crowd. It is a way to remember that hotel, the unexpected, the nice surprise,” Cotton said. “It shows that the hotel is thinking about the more-rounded experience.”

Art that 'lens' itself well
Degree Art’s Olisa said photography and photographers should be included in a hotel’s design process right from the beginning, not just as an add-on.

“Art is often the last thought. It should not be,” especially at a time when alternative accommodations are touting their individuality, she said.

“Everyone wants that unique, bespoke feel—local with a twist, not tired subjects such as landmarks, but perhaps photo collages of local celebrities and famous people,” Olisa said.

Photography is not always an out-and-out investment, she said, but fine-arts photography is taking the form to a new level.

“We challenge hotels to show care and attention in what they have put on the walls, and guests are expecting that,” she said. “Hotels have the ability to nurture artists. Sometimes they shy away from making bold statements, but if they do so, guests will appreciate it.”

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