For this series of photographs, Kyoko Ebata visits the houses of elderly (or retired in this case) people by appointment and takes photographs of their room. Their room is the location where the owner of the house spends the longest part of the day. The owner of the room does not appear in the scene but the objects of everyday life are captured in the photographs. Common every day objects are arranged in the style of each owner.
These objects were originally purchased according to necessity, or they were already there when the owner was born. However, the objects are not all used frequently. We can all think of an item that has not been used for a long time. Acquired objects when in need indeed have a purpose to exist, but when they stop functioning or are simply forgotten, they become objects in the sense of the word: they simply become things. .
Having said this, the landscape photographs as taken by Ebata do not reflect the exact relationship between the owner and the objects. We can only imagine the relationship according to details such as the dust collected on the object, or the particular hue that things have that have not been used for a long time.
It is often said that objects have a memory of their owners engrained into them. This point of view is acceptable if one is talking about at an old implement that has changed shape by being worn down heavily. However we should not forget that it is because we have the prior recognition of the objectﾕs shape that makes us believe that objects have a memory. Like a well made fake antique, the tricks for making something look old take advantage of our bias towards thinking that old things have value.
The sense of pathos that we feel when looking at an object that is no longer in use may be something that has been imprinted into us without our knowledge. It is similar to the fact that we find more value in an old Buddhist temple that has faded colors, than a brand-new temple.
The work of Ebata makes us confront the relationship between an object and a person who spontaneously assigns meaning through recognition. This applies to a landscape too, as a landscape only exists because we recognize it as a landscape. If there is nobody to recognize it as a landscape, it is nothing more than a representation of nature. It may be thought that the feeling of excitement experienced when confronted with an object, or the shared memory revolving around the object, existing as a metonymy of the owner, can only be understood by people who are close to the owner. If we however look at the relationship that we have to our beloved objects that we perceive to be an extension of our own bodies, then I believe that a wider understanding can be achieved.
Photographs cannot make invisible things visible. The intention of the photographer only appears when the viewer can read the information contained in the objects, and then fill in the invisible parts. It is because the work of Ebata captures carefully and truthfully each object as if she is drawing a still life painting, that a state of tranquility is achieved with the objects disconnected from other objects. At the same time, the fate of the object that will eventually lose the owner through his or her death appears as a contemporary vanitas allegorizing the brevity and the emptiness of this world.
Yokohama Museum of Art