Somebody once said that to understand society at a given point in time, look at their restrooms.
That somebody was me. I don’t know if it is true because I just made that up, but it can certainly feel like the decor and functionality of restrooms, both public and private, say a lot about us and the times we are living in – even if the restroom itself is stuck in time. Do you prefer them looking sterile and harsh? Cozy and kitschy? Luxurious to a fault? Basic and no-frills? High-tech? Perhaps you prefer them done with decor that makes no sense, executed with reckless abandon for any and all design rules as though a monkey on amphetamines went through a curbside dumpster and thought, “yes, this will be perfect!”
For five years, I’ve been documenting the restrooms around Cleveland that I happened to find myself in. It started as a joke on Instagram, and just kept going. I can’t quite articulate what the criteria were, but my gut always told me when it was something worth a photo. These are interiors that rarely get documented unless they are designed as “selfie bait”. Sure, some restrooms clearly had a big budget, but it is always interesting to see what can be done with a meager budget. Documenting is important because you never know what will be gone tomorrow.
In the short number of years since I started this project as a fun hashtag #restroomsofcleveland, several of these restrooms have been redone or have disappeared completely. The gentrification of cities has erased character and replaced it with subway tiles and Edison bulbs; the rustbelt has been slowly following the “AirSpace” aesthetic much to my disappointment.
Bars, theaters, warehouses, grocery stores, private clubs, pinball arcades, museums, schools, churches, furniture stores, and coffee shops are just some of the places you will find in the photo book I compiled – simply titled “The Restrooms of Cleveland.” It is a testament to the fact I hydrate often and have a weak bladder with little regard for location. I wish I had time to tell you my own stories within these facilities; exposed electrical wire, celebrity sightings, girl fights, dance parties, vomit, perfect selfie lighting, and unpaid counseling sessions. There was the time I found myself on my knees under a bride’s dress to fix a mishap, the time I tried desperately to keep the makeshift door closed with one foot while in the dressing room reserved for strippers, and the time a raccoon visited me while minding my own damn business! I’ve seen it all in Cleveland, Ohio, man.