My first toilet experience in China was a dimly lit, pungent, squat style affair down a dodgy alley in Beijing. Struggling to aim over the hole whilst keeping a hand on the door without lock, it was an experience I will never forget.
Since that close encounter, there have been many more whilst travelling. As time has passed, instead of entering a toilet with a grimace and sense dread, I have grown a strong curiosity and sense of adventure on encountering and using these confined spaces. Often when on the road, when you have to go, you have to go. You can not pick nor choose. These spaces allow a brief few seconds of relief, yet after this catharsis you often want to escape quickly. When living in Guilin, China, the bus station had over 50 toilets, luckily with doors. On inspection however, one often had to play Russian toilet roulette to find one that did not have a huge shit sitting in the squat basin.
A few years back I decided to document these experiences. The more I travelled, the more going to toilet became an important part of the journey. These are spaces that we frequent everyday, ones that we share, spaces that we don’t talk about. When I travel, it is a intimate space that I share with the locals. Sometimes there are walls, sometimes it is a ditch in the road.
I chose to take a picture of the toilet and of something memorable about the location. It is not just the act of using the toilet that has intrigued me, but the way it belongs to a time, place and moment on my voyage around the world.
It is a project that is on going as I travel. I am not using a fancy camera, the shots are sometimes out of focus, capturing for example the wild movements of a Burmese sleeping train careering wilding around bends.
The dichotomy of public and private is at its most confused in the realm of the public toilet. These spaces can be a place of exchange. In China, walls are not always present and you might come across a grinning old lady squatting beside you, curious to learn where you are from whilst you do your business.
Private space is not something of a big concept in the crowded worlds of India, Hong Kong and many others. Embrace their toilets and you can learn much about the dynamics of their culture.
So here they are. The smelly, the bad, the ugly . Yet for me, each space has its beauty within that moment in time. I was there.
Hover over the toilet for location