Jesse’s book review, Apartment by Ishiuchi Miyako
Jesse has been working really hard and has a load of brilliant book reviews for us. Here is the latest. Come and check it out.
Apartment is a photo book by Ishiuchi Miyako that is about apartments in her native Yokohoma area. Of her works this is her second major series after Yokosuka Story that was a photo essay about the place where she spent her childhood. With those unfamiliar with the area, it is also the home (still is today) to one of the larger US naval bases.
So the American influence creates quite a different atmosphere for anyone growing up there, and during the post war period life was quite tough with drugs and prostitution that influence bought about (a great film that depicts this relationship was Imamura Shohei’s Japanese new wave film, Pigs and Battleships). The aesthetics of Apartment carry a grainy black and white raw yet personal style to the subject, a style that would later dissolve into her later finer quality series of hands and feet and Butoh that would come decades later.
The interesting aspect of Apartment is that these are not just Japanese apartments as they are today. Predicating the economic bubble during recovery there was just not a lot of money in Japan. As always people were leaving rural areas for the metropolitan areas like Tokyo for work and people often lived together in these sorts of communal apartments. Each tenant has a small room with a key and everything else is entirely communal from the bathroom in the hall to the kitchen downstairs…it was all shared.
In a western retrospective of her work I recall reading that she had stayed in these conditions and actually had fond memories as there is a certain level of homeliness to these photos. Yet to the eyes of an westerner it would seem rather substandard, but that is a matter of perspective.
Fittingly enough the photos are edited in a way that tell a story. We see the outside views of some of these apartments as we would before going into one. The first interior shot is a shoe cabinet that each tenant has for their room. We see the hallways and stairs as we would upon entering. It is her attention to detail and ability to make us feel the texture of the cheap wallpaper half covering the walls or the rotting wood structuring.
This would seem quite static devoid of people, but we get to go inside of tenants apartments and see them in their living space. The posters jump out at you as we see their tastes and desires. In this there is a little girl caught off guard in the hallway that is often touted as the best and promotional image for this book which is bad because that photo makes us feel pity and most of the people in her photos all seem quite happy in their rooms and several of whom have TVs and other modern appliances. Which is what I like about the book, she doesn’t offer us her opinion on these apartments but instead just shows them as they are. Because you see for every photo of mold on a wall on the next page we get a small but clean and highly organized apartment.
Going back to the room interiors, there is her preoccupation with wall posters. I don’t say this because of their prevalence but the fact that through her framing and resulting composition I would suggest that they are the primary focus of the photos. I mean it is interesting to see people’s taste displayed on their walls. There is an older gentleman with an Alain Delon poster the French movie star of the 60s and 70s, while there is a younger man who through his own fashion style you can see is influenced but American rock and roll that is reinforced through his choice in posters. For the most part men have attractive women on their walls and for the women it is the opposite.
The rest of the book is really just filled with the everyday: bicycles in hallways, an old woman sitting out in front watching the day pass, stuffed mailboxes, and clothes hanging to dry. It is in the familiar that the book is just a delight. With that said I believe this book in particular is a bit difficult to purchase but she has a lot of her more recent polished work widely available on Amazon.
Also a side note: I apologize for the quality of images. I usually shoot the photos in full frame on my 5D through Leica R lenses, but the for these library ones I have to use my iPhone 5s and indoor light.
Jesse Freeman is a friend, photographer and movie buff. He has a great knowledge of photography books and classic cinema. He can also be relied upon for decent music recommendations.
You can more of his work and passions at the following places:
Want to read Jesse’s other great reviews? Then click here to go to the archives.
Thanks for this one Jesse. This is something that has fascinated me for a long time. The relationship between the Japanese and the military. You see it a lot in places like Fussa, so to see a book documenting this relationship is fascinating.