Nathalie Daoust

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Nathalie Daoust

Nathalie Daoust (born March 31, 1977) is a Canadian photographer and contemporary artist. Using space and light as avenues through which to examine the creation of self, she constructs worlds that lay bare the conflicting impulses that drive us.


Daoust studied photography at the Cégep du Vieux Montreal (1994–1997). Upon graduating, she moved to New York City, where she spent two years inhabiting and photographing the uniquely themed rooms of the Carlton Arms Hotel. These images comprise her first book, New York Hotel Story, published in 2002. New York Hotel Story introduces many of the themes she grapples with in subsequent works, including identity, gender, sexuality, time and memory, and escapism.

Her photographs focus on exposing hidden desires and dreams, frequently as manifested in the margins of society. Too often this margin is inhabited by women, as many of her projects attest. From portraits of female sex workers in Brazil and Japan, to the role of women in contemporary Chinese society, Nathalie explores the darker side of the construction of female identity.

Nathalie is led by her desire to understand the human impulse to construct experiences that allow us to live, for at least a moment, in a fictive world. From female dominatrices at a Japanese S&M hotel in Tokyo Hotel Story, to one man’s decision to discard his own identity in favor of another's in Impersonating Mao, her work inhabits the liminal space between fiction and truth. Her most conceptually complex project to date, Korean Dreams, explores the meaning of fantasy itself. While traveling through North Korea she observed the manipulation of reality on a national scale, capturing the layers of forced illusion perpetuated by the North Korean government.

Employing a variety of means to address her subjects, Nathalie’s technique plays a crucial role in communicating content. She employs non-digital techniques so that the process of creating the image itself contributes to her conceptual explorations.


New York Hotel Story, USA
  • New York Hotel Story

In 1997 Nathalie was invited to decorate a room in the Carlton Arms Hotel in New York City – a hotel that, over the past 30 years, has invited foreign artists to transform single rooms. Nathalie created a child’s dreamland, painted in crayola-bright colors and crowded with games and plush animals. After completing the room she stayed on for another 2 years, living in and photographing each room. The resultant images explore the interaction between subject and closed environment, engaging with the uncertainty of self as each room becomes a microcosmic world.

These photos were published in a book of the same name in 2002.

  • Tokyo Girls

This portrait series captures thirty beautiful exotic dancers from around the globe, brought to Tokyo to engage in a multicultural striptease. Captured using Lenticular technology – a technique that imparts the illusion of movement – the women seem to dance in front of our eyes, writhing and gyrating in an endless loop. While this fate could seem melancholy, the dancers have a certain lighthearted frivolity, epitomized by the woman who winks coyly at us while performing striptease.

Though united by their shared occupation, each portrait presents a unique individual. Photographed against a white backdrop, the women are able to tell their own stories, communicating via movement and expression. Nathalie does not allow them to become stereotypes, but lets them reveal the conscious artifice of their trade.

  • Entre Quatre Murs, Berlin

Focusing on the construction of female identity, Entre Quatre Murs, Berlin is a composition of women and space. This sequence of three-dimensional portraits transparentizes the female body, as Nathalie interweaves her subjects with their surroundings until the distinction between self and environment all but disappears. The women seem in turns melancholy, playful, defiant and nostalgic – as the bounds between their external world and interior self dissolve.

Each image is a composite, the elements separated and printed on layers of orthochromatic film. By superimposing these layers, the image is reconstituted 3-dimensionally.

Frozen In Time, Switzerland
  • Street Kiss, Brazil

The Nicacio, a brothel in downtown Rio de Janeiro, is both a place of the quick, downmarket sex trade and a space decorated by artists. The girls employed by the brothel have also founded a fashion label, Daspu, to fund workers benefits for prostitutes.

As a female photographer Nathalie disrupts the exchange between these subjects and their traditional viewers, allowing these women to exist not as passive objects of the male gaze but as active participants in the creation of their gendered identity. In this way the women, the art, and the fight for dignity in life all come together.

  • Frozen in Time, Switzerland

Set in an ambiguous territory where dream and reality clash, this series of hand painted black and white pinhole images juxtaposes the idyllic scenery of the Swiss Alps with stiff female bodies, their figures as haphazardly positioned as discarded dolls. These unidentified women are purposefully left ambiguous, evoking a universal sense of loss and disequilibrium. In this altered state of reality, stillness and silence permeate each image. It is an almost post-apocalyptic quiet, the landscape punctuated with the man-made elements, crumbling monuments for a disappearing world.[1]

Tokyo Hotel Story, Japan
  • Tokyo Hotel Story

Tokyo Hotel Story continues Nathalie’s exploration of female sexuality and the subversion of gender stereotypes. Over a four-month period Nathalie engaged with the dominatrices at one of Tokyo’s premier S&M love hotels, the Alpha-In.[2] She photographed 39 women in their private rooms, surrounded by the equipment and dressed in the regalia that define their trade. Her work takes the viewer beyond taboos while showing the universal human desire to escape reality.

  • Impersonating Mao, China

This photo-documentary captures the interior world of a man who has appropriated the persona of Mao Zedong, founder of the People’s Republic of China. Shot on old Chinese film, the negatives were physically manipulated in the darkroom then sealed in amber-like resin to create an insubstantial world of illusion. Each scene is an arresting balance of soft and sharp, faded memory colliding with an insistent present. These images invite the viewer to reflect on notions of power and powerlessness, as a man seeks to make himself visible by taking on such a controversial persona.

  • China Dolls
China Dolls, China

China Dolls is a study of contemporary Chinese women, the role they play in society and the consequences of the one child policy.[3] Photographed individually in a darkened room, Nathalie completely strips the scene of external signifiers, spotlighting women who have, according to the artist, “remained in shadows.” These lyrical, aborted tableaux personify the feelings of otherness and otherworldliness that run through her work.

Each black and white print is hand-colored and printed on ceramic tile, reinforcing the notion of the ‘China Doll’ – reflecting the fragile situation of the modern Chinese woman.

  • Korean Dreams, North Korea

Korean Dreams is a complex series that probes the mysterious world of North Korea. Nathalie’s images reveal a country that seems to exist outside of time, as a carefully choreographed mirage.[4] She has spent much of her career exploring the chimeric world of fantasy: the hidden desires and urges that compel people to dream, to dress up, to move beyond the bounds of convention. With Korean Dreams she is exploring this escapist impulse not as an individual choice, but as a way of life forced upon an entire nation.

Selected publications[edit]

New York Hotel Story (book, 2002)

1814 magazine, USA

European Photography Magazine, Germany

Art World Magazine, China

Twill magazine, France

Fine art photo magazine, Germany

Vision magazine, China

Build magazine, Germany

Zoom magazine, Poland

Eyemazing magazine, The Netherlands

Dp Arte Fotográfica, Portugal

Silvershotz magazine, Australia

Drome magazine, Italy

Art Le Sabord magazine, Canada

PhotoWorld magazine, China

Front magazine, Canada

Zoom photography magazine, Italy

Fortnightly journal of Contemporary Art, Atelier-Czech Republic

Art magazine Cheese, Estonia

NY Arts magazine, USA

PhotoArt magazine, Czech Republic

Pozytyw Photo magazine, Poland

Zoom Photography magazine, Poland

Border Crossings art magazine, Canada

PhotoEd magazine, Canada

British Journal of Photography, England

External links[edit]


  1. ^ "Nathalie Doust (Canada): Frozen in Time at the Fremantle Arts Centre" Fremantle Arts Center, 29 Jan - 20 Mar 2011. Retrieved from:
  2. ^ Griggs, T. (2014, 31 July) "Nathalie Daoust Photographs the Women of an Infamous Japanese S&M Love Hotel", Vice Magazine.
  3. ^ "China Dolls by Nathalie Daoust" Dodho Magazine, 17 Feb, 2014.
  4. ^ "Nathalie Daoust, Korean Dreams (Canada)", Copenhagen Photo Festival, 2–12 June 2016.