March 1, 2012
Recently, while browsing through my books, I asked myself (not for the first time), “What is the most interesting book that I own?” Maureen Duffy’s scholarly work, “The Erotic World of Faery” (1972) comes to mind, as does the infamous seventeenth-century witch-hunting manual, “The Compendium Maleficarum”. By and large, however, these books, while notable and deserving of more than a mere mention, are ultimately niche oddities that illuminate cultural phenomena with which we are already familiar.
I’ve decided to bring to your attention a book that I’m unable to read. Written in Japanese, it’s a slim volume comprised almost entirely of photographs. The title, which can be translated roughly as “Memories of a Housing Complex”, features images of 39 apartment complexes that were built—and since often abandoned or neglected—during the housing boom of the 70s and 80s.
Published only in Japan, the book is intended for an aging (and nostalgic) Japanese audience that yearns to reconnect with what most of us—regardless of nationality—perceive to be a simpler time. In the case of “Memories of a Housing Complex”, however, the Western viewer is unintentionally deprived of any of the identifiers that tell us, “This is Japan”. No geisha, no temples, no bustling high-tech hubs. When confronted with the mundane, as we are in this book, we search for clues that mirror the ordinariness of our own environments: playground swings, bicycles, stray dogs, laundry hung out to dry. It all sounds rather sad, but open skies and overgrown fields reawaken childhood memories, and viewers are encouraged to populate these tableaux with people and memories from their own childhoods. Perhaps that well-worn path was a shortcut to school; and isn’t that squeaky gate similar to the one I passed en route to visiting a friend? This active engagement with the pictures demythologizes Japan and invites the viewer into a shared space where tired memories find new life.
That’s enough from me. Enjoy a few sample pictures from the book itself!