As a guest at the Miami Film Festival back in 1978, photographer and filmmaker Maxi Cohen retreated to the ladies’ room after becoming bored at the awards dinner. “I found myself in the company of great dames in lavish gowns and dazzling jewels, perfecting their eyebrows, powdering their noses and painting their lips,” say Maxi. For the rest of the night she photographed these women and the images became the first in her ongoing project, Ladies’ Rooms Around the World. The series has led her to the Australian outback, Zambian discos, the Cannes Film Festival and a Samba school in Rio among many other places.
A key feature in the series is that Maxi has only photographed places where she’s actually gone to the toilet. “It just so happens that as a filmmaker my work has taken me to places where there have been celebrities, beautiful women and fabulous bathrooms,” she says. Because her photographs are all from her personal experiences, it removes any hierarchy between the bathrooms Maxi’s captured. So the ladies’ room at the Golden Globes becomes just as important as the New York airport terminal toilet, meaning the women in those bathrooms do too.
Throughout the series Maxi appears in some way or another, in a phoneless ream of refined and more thoughtful toilet selfies. Whether she’s tucked away behind the camera or in the background of the mirror she’s there, but Maxi has never seen the project as a series of self-portraits. “The entire series maintains the same style as the first photo taken: a head on, postcard shot with me implicating myself in the moment of that private ritual, in that safe haven, a place of refuge for women,” she explains.
The clash of cool and warm colours from the different toilets conjures up different moods and this is heightened depending on the decade the image was taken. For Maxi though it’s less about the space and more about portraying the women who use them honestly. “ Ladies’ Rooms celebrates women; their beauty and the camaraderies that happens in this domain,” she says.
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