Ladies Rooms Around the World

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As I grew up, bathrooms were my favorite hiding place, and the one sanctuary of solitude in an otherwise densely populated world. In the ladies room, I was always lecturing myself into some courageous act, rehearsing how to be spontaneous or just disappearing from visibility.

In 1978, I was at the Mimi Film Festival with my first feature-length documentary, Joe and Maxi, a film about my relationship with my father. To escape the boring awards dinner at the hotel ballroom, I retreated to the ladies room. Enchanted by the octogenarians adjusting their corsets and false eyelashes, I took a camera from my purse and photographed the camaraderie of their tribal dance within this temple of porcelain and silver. Thus began my journey photographing in ladies rooms around the world – from Australia to Zambia, Bombay to Bosnia, Rio to Tel Aviv.

Through my explorations of ladies rooms, I began to consider important questions. What we normally know about the world is learned through the words and actions of men. But what if the silence of women, whose perceptions are often different, was broken and we began to see what is hidden within? This was the impetus for filming in ladies rooms around the world.

In the 1990s, I entered an Aboriginal bar in the Australian outback. A pair of women signaled me, the only Caucasian, to sit with them. Fearing the men might overhear, they dragged me into the ladies room to tell me about the incest and rape of young girls and boys in the community. That was the first video I shot in a ladies room. It would be followed by many more in local languages and various styles, capturing vulnerable moments and intimate confessions on issues ranging from sex to adultery, power to abuse, fashion to fame, social outcry to celebratory expression, horror to delight.