Osaka's “Gunkan” apartment complex takes its name from the many chimney pipes which jutted out from its roof, giving it the appearance of a “battleship.” Of course, this name was given to it back in the early 1930s, when people could see it from far away. It's since been enclosed by taller, more modern buildings, but even today people still live there. In an essay translated into English at the back of the volume, Yamashita Yutake said that upon his first visit to the complex, “I was fascinated by the sense that I had somehow been transported back in time to a forgotten era.” This feeling comes through in the dilapidated walls and heavy wood which permeate these photos.
Over the course of 17 years visiting the Gunkan Apartments, Yamashita developed a relationship to its residents–and to photography. At first, he was viewed as an outsider with a suspiciously big camera, but as he became more accepted, he said, “my idea about photography changed from something that is 'taken' to something that is 'given.'” Even without showing any residents, “Gunkan Apartments” is surprisingly intimate. Starting with a survey of the building's facade, we are then led inside the homes, where shoes, cooking appliances, old calendars, dishes, and generally people's messes have been left untouched for the camera to discover.