Bathroom Encounters that I just had to Photograph

Today is Cuban singer Omara Portuondo’s 90th birthday. I suddenly remembered the time some twenty years ago when I was working at the BBC and encountered her in the Ladies loos. Despite her being a huge star, she was very gracious and obliging, letting me photograph her whilst at the sink washing her hands:

I’ve decided to curate a selection of the many images I’ve been inspired to take in public bathrooms. These are the ones that resonate with me most right now. On the theme of elegant older women, back in 2009, I encountered an incredibly chic, glamorous artist touching up her make-up in the bathroom mirror at The Hampstead Institute adult education centre. She is a sculptor and ceramicist and was wearing white protective gear which matched her multi-strand pearls:

I’ve lost the original photograph for this so this is a screenshot – I was in the Ladies loos at Ronnie Scotts Jazz Club in London which used to have leopard-printed floor tiles. Lo and behold there was a woman in there with matching shoes:

A surreal and spooky encounter – a woman brushes her hair in the bathroom of Stoke Newington Arts venue The Others. I had to look twice:

Next a few public bathroom images from my travels starting in Venice, Italy. Firstly an inadvertent still life; discarded false eyelashes on a metallic surface with pot plant and water droplets:

A sign that reads as Done in English but is Venetian dialect for Donne, meaning women. The green-gartered stockings (worn with no knickers) and bizarre headdress were another reason for me to record the sign:

In the Ladies toilets at a restaurant in Verona – I’m unaccustomed to coming across champagne and fine wine in this situation:

Perhaps the most surreal encounter I’ve had with an inanimate object in a public loo was at The Spotted Cat Music Club on Frenchmen Street in New Orleans. It’s all about the music – there’s even a piano in the Ladies. Seen in January 2020:

On New Years Eve in New Orleans, 2018 I was in the ladies restroom of The Howling Wolf Bar when I had the tables turned on me. I was at the mirror snapping a woman wearing a New Year’s tiara when we struck up a conversation; she said she’ll photograph us and apply filter and adjustments. This is my candid shot of her followed by her takeover, in which I end up wearing the tiara:

Her portrait of me complete with filters:

A couple of shots from Japan; at a Buddhist temple in Kyoto, wearing special plastic bathroom slippers and wondering how to negotiate the floor level squatting toilet:

Having seen Sofia Coppola’s film Lost in Translation numerous times we wanted to visit Tokyo’s Park Hyatt Hotel and attend a jazz night at the bar there. This was the control panel for the toilet in the ladies bathroom, 2015:

I liked this bathroom decor – wallpaper featuring old Penguin paperbacks. Taken in San Francisco at the Mazarine Cafe on Market, 2018:

Closer to home, I once recorded the perfectly folded toilet tissue roll in my mother’s downstairs toilet as part of a series of images documenting her home life. To me it epitomised her attention to detail and aesthetic appearance. It is also something I do not do, despite becoming increasingly tidy as I’ve got older:

And bringing things up to date with social distancing measures at London’s National Gallery:

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