Millions of friendships have been forged in women's toilets. Fleeting friendships, maybe, but the kind of bonds that feel like they'll last a lifetime when you're eight keys deep and chatting your way towards lockjaw.
Samantha Jagger, a 26-year-old photographer from Yorkshire, is well aware of this – so much so that she's spent the last three years shooting a project, "Loosen Up", which explores the cultural and social importance of the toilet. I had a chat with her about all that ahead of her exhibition at Outlaws Yacht Club in Leeds.
VICE: Why toilets?
Samantha Jagger: I've been taking photos on point-and-shoots since I was about 16, but it wasn't until about 2017, when I was looking through a box I have brimming with prints, that I realised how many were taken in loos. There was something in that; people are breaking up, making up and gearing up in that space.
What's your "process"?
I've always got my point-and-shoot with me in my bag because it's tiny. So if I go for a night out, if I see something I'll just snap it in the moment. The people in the photos are all friends or friends of friends.
What is it specifically about toilets that you love?
One thing is the designs of loos through the decades that fascinates me. You know the 80s-style working men's clubs with the garish carpets and tiles? They're not very hygienic – but I think, in a couple of decades, toilets will become all sparkly and clean and lose that aesthetic charm. As technology advances, I think it'll all change. I wanted to capture it as a slice of history.
How do your photos differ from the kind of "snapshots" of nights out you might see on Instagram?
Mine differ because I don't edit my photos at all. Obviously I'll adjust them if the horizontal lines are off a tiny bit, but I'm not Photoshopping people. I'm just presenting them how they are, and I think that's the beauty of taking them on film; you've documented that moment and there's no asking, 'Can you do that pose again?' None of that.
How do you think this project will progress?
Clubs are introducing gender-neutral toilets, which I think is fantastic. It's brilliant that we can finally be inclusive, and from what I've seen it really works. So with that built in, I think the whole idea of toilets will be really changing. From what I've seen – for instance, in clubs in Latvia or Berlin – all the toilets are gender neutral there, and it seems to work well. The only thing I will say is that I know that some women have had horrendous experiences – for example, a miscarriage – in toilets. Gender neutral toilets are something that we all need to discuss how to make safe for everyone.
What have you learned over shooting this project?
There's a lot of kindness from strangers. People open up within the four walls of the WC; it's a place where mates are made, faces are preened and inhibitions are freed. There's so much sharing that goes on between each other – just basic things like condoms, tampons and lipsticks, bog roll. Then you've got the camaraderie side of it – people smiling at each other, compliments. Sometimes you go in there and you hear one person say to another, "Aww, I'm on a terrible date." Then the other person starts giving them a pep talk. They don't even know each other.
Do you think it's the same in the men's room?
From what I understand, some men just go in, use the toilet and leave. I've been told from queer friends who go into toilets at gay clubs, it's different – they'll do all sorts in there. I think it completely depends on what environment you are in. In Berlin, for instance, all sorts goes on in those toilets. I think opening people's eyes to it and being like, "Yeah, the space can be used for that sort of thing" is maybe another positive that's come out of this project.
See more photos from Loosen Up below:
This article originally appeared on VICE UK.