Jesse’s Book Review – Ice Box by Ushioda Tokuko
It takes me a while to get them up, by Jesse keeps on working away, producing these fantastic reviews. This time delves into a book that looks at our innermost secrets.
As a child mornings were always the best. I often had nightmares so as far as time goes, that was the longest possible time before I had to go to bed again and the possibilities for the day typically overshadowed the night terrors that followed.
Cereal and pop-tarts were always at the start and much to my dismay my mom always put cereal in Tupperwear and threw out the cereal boxes that always had the fun visual games on the back. So my eyes would always wonder to the refrigerator. On ours it was usually my sister’s art work, recent snap shots, and occasionally something bad I made in art class that my mom would find some artistic qualities in to get me interested in art although my preoccupations were entirely with sports.
My grandparents I recall on their refrigerator had those cheap gas station state magnets for every state they drove to and actual remembered to buy a magnet to symbolize the fact. It is these small everyday moments of observations that we as photographers should be more in tune with and in turn share with the world…entering Ushioda Tokuko’s Ice Box.
Box is a series of black and white photographs taken from about 1981-1994 (roughly my childhood) in homes throughout Tokyo. The photos are done in pairs: one photo with the fridge door open, the other with it closed…amounting to just under 60 photos in all.
There are also three essays (both in English and Japanese) from the artist and two critics. The artist herself relates the work from her family’s first apartment after having her first child and her experience with the fridge her husband had bought.
The first critic examines the importance in the everyday that the refrigerator plays in our lives while the remaining essay relates the refrigerator in context to space in our homes. Upon hearing about her photo book, I was attracted to the novelty of the idea and the subsequent compositional play on rectangles and squares (admittedly this is a bit shallow). Instead I found myself wondering about the people themselves.
I recently moved to an older apartment more central in Shibuya. In ten years of living in Japan, this is the first time I don’t have the parlor in my apartment which usually serves as a little self contained room to remove one’s shoes before opening another door into the apartment itself. I came to appreciate the security of it whereas now as soon as the door is open everything is exposed.
Compartmentalization is the overriding aspect of Japanese interiors and often the most hidden is the kitchen (if you have a larger home). So it is within this that the refrigerator serves as the inner most part of our lives…the innards (as a critic expressed) revealing what we consume in that so much more can be deduced from it.
Bellamy had a feature, “Show Me Your Film”, of which most people shot their refrigerators. Most that were featured were wealthier as they usually had a separate fridge for film. Meaning that they first have enough film to even justify a second fridge, which one could roughly conclude their soci-economic standing.
I submitted one (although never released on the site lol) that featured maybe five rolls of film, two Kraft cheese singles, beer, and various condiments stolen from fast food restaurants, in turn speaking volumes of my priorities and social status. In my defense I would argue that in being more minimal, Japanese convenient stores are my refrigerators freeing up clutter in my home. Guess for these reasons, it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to bring back that feature to the JCH website in context of this book. (*I would totally feature that fridge*)
Anyway, what shines in this book is the correspondence between the inside and the outside. The images on the left side of the pages are of the refrigerator closed. The result is that our eyes search all around the fridge taking in the tidiness or lack of, the appliances the people use, and other various items around that give indication to the subjects priorities and lifestyle.
Then for me the items on the closed fridges is something I enjoy, the magnets, the art, the bills, reminder lists, or in some cases simply nothing at all. Strange how we decorate our fridges, a habit I doubt any of us even give second thought to. The right side with the open fridge, opens up the space quite literally. The most obvious result is us looking at the contents of the fridges: the alcohol, condiments, distinctive natto packets, brand names, left over dinners, eggs, etc.
My preoccupation was in the comparison of the surroundings of the fridge to the contents of the fridge. For example, neat tidy minimal spaces would suddenly reveal an explosion of abundance making the image jarring to what was set by the left side. Or the more expected unison images like 49-A/49-B that feature minimalism through out or in the opposite 56-A/56-B that is just a clutter mess inside and out that truly feels like going into the deeper innards that the second critic was discussing.
Unfortunately, this book is a bit expensive to obtain being published only once in 1996. It can be easily found on the internet, but for around 200 USD. It has become quite iconic as I came across just a single image from this book at Fujifilm’s exhibit exploring single images from the best Japanese photographers through the decades.
Quite welcomed as well to see a woman photographer get that level of recognition as there is a lot of talent here that deserves appreciation and like the photo book “Apartment” that I reviewed, I actually got quite a few emails from women photographers who wanted more information on her and other women Japanese photographers.
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.
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