Hotel Series 1991

Arnaud Maggs, Hotel Series, 1991

Arnaud Maggs, Hotel Series (details), 1991
Gelatin silver prints, 185.1 x 53 cm (each)

Installed at The Power Plant, Toronto, 1991, photograph by Arnaud Maggs

In 1991, walking the streets of Paris, Arnaud Maggs photographed more than three hundred vertical hotel signs. One hundred years earlier, in response to Baron Haussmann’s modernization program of Paris, Eugène Atget (1857–1927) photographed the streets, buildings, and gardens of historic Paris and its environs, collecting images of a disappearing city. Like Atget’s photographs, Maggs’s series offers a record of a threatened Parisian icon. Aligning with his lifelong interest in collecting, the work functions as an act of preservation, enabling a photographic afterlife for the once ubiquitous signs. In this way, the series also recalls the encyclopedic records of disappearing industrial structures in Germany by Bernd and Hilla Becher (1931–2007, 1934–2015).


Eugène Atget, Street with Hotel Sign, Hotel de Sens, rue de l’Hôtel de Ville, Paris, early 1900s, albumen silver print from glass negative, 16.7 x 20.5 cm, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Cropped close to the subjects, Maggs’s photographs are tall and narrow, mimicking the proportions of the original objects. Indeed, the scale of his prints—usually either six or eight feet tall—intentionally approximates the signs themselves. Maggs was drawn to them as symbols: “They’re all vertical, and we’re not used to reading in a vertical way. So after a while they became almost like icons—like symbols. . . . I realized that we don’t read them, we just recognize them.  To maintain this emphasis on form, Maggs avoided signs that also featured the hotel’s name, opting instead to photograph only generic hotel signs.


Maggs narrowed his photographic collection to 165 signs, which were then compiled in a book project designed by graphic designer and typographer Ed Cleary (1950–1994) and published by Art Metropole (Toronto) and Presentation House (Vancouver) in 1993. As with The Complete Prestige 12” Jazz Catalogue, 1988, and Köchel Series, 1990, Maggs’s hotel series nods to his career in graphic design and signals his enduring interest in typography and letterforms. But more than that, the taxonomy of letterforms shaped the conceptual framework for the project, where Maggs organized the photographs in the book by lettering style. Each page of the book comprises five similar hotel signs.


When Maggs first exhibited the photographs at Art Metropole in conjunction with the book launch, he organized the images again by lettering style. He initially grouped like signs together to insist on their resemblance and draw attention to the similarities among them. “They’re all different,” he explained, “but there’s a similarity.  As in much of his work, his arrangements impose a further formal logic on the collection and encourage viewers to pay attention to subtle differences among images.


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