Review: Asakusa Zenzai by Eriko Koga


Book Reviews, Photobooks




Documenting domestic life has been a staple of contemporary photography for quite some time now. Often, but not always, the artist is related to, if not part, of the social group portrayed. A wonderful new addition to this genre is Eriko Koga’s Asakusa Zenzai. The book follows an elderly couple in their 80s, Hirata Hana and Nakamura Yoshiro, over the course of six years and portrays their daily life, a daily life where nothing much seems to happen. Life, in other words, as most people live it. (more)

Each of the photographs is a small moment, well seen, and combined into this small, intimate book, the viewer gets to know these two people a little bit. It’s a simple life, filled with little pleasures. The life that was, the couple’s past, is alluded to through the use of archival photographs, which are presented in exactly the same way as all the others. You can only tell the archival photographs apart from their tone, which differs a little, but not much, from the contemporary ones. And the flow of time does not stop, the last images in the book show the couple’s space empty.

The way the book was produced contributes a lot to its effect. It’s a small volume, printed on what feels like very rough paper - you’d ordinarily expect this kind of paper in mass-produced paperbacks. With this choice of paper, the quality of the printing itself suffers a little - there essentially are no details in the shadows. But the amazing thing is that instead of taking away from the book, the paper and printing add to it. Instead of presenting the life of this elderly couple in a maybe glorified, glossy way, it’s shown as what it is, simple, unassuming, with beauty to be found where one wouldn’t necessarily expect it.


Asakusa Zenzai, photography and text (Japanese only) by Eriko Koga, Seigensha Art Publishing, 2011

Note: I received the book as a gift from Peter Evans who lives in Japan. The book might not be easily available outside of Japan, but it can be ordered via Japan Exposures. At the time of this writing, ¥2,490 correspond to roughly US$30. I’m indebted to Peter and one of his blog posts for providing some of the details of the book (I am unable to read Japanese).

(find my video presentation of the book here)