The mall makes me wonder what sort of world we are living in now. I wonder about the circulation of human activity, of the world in relation to humans.
Since 2002, I have been the photographing high-school students for a project that has resulted in two books: The Glare of Youth and NEW TEXT. Interested parties respond to a call I put out online, then I visit each of them in their hometown and take pictures at locations familiar to them. As the project went on, I realized that more and more of these students were choosing shopping malls. I've witnessed the mushrooming of gigantic shopping malls all over Japan. Now the malls are everywhere. Sometimes when I'm at one, I lose all sense of where I am. Something very new has been constructed in our society.
Almost twenty years have passed, and the high-schoolers whom I photographed are now in their middle or late thirties. They go to the malls with their new families. The mall is a very common after-school stop among teenagers today.
The project made me think that the scenes of the malls are, in some sense, the contemporary Japanese landscape. My generation missed out on the experience, but I've nurtured my own relationship with malls through photographing the students.
I started taking photos of malls in 2012. This series is a record of Japanese malls in the 2010s.［...]
The mall is like a city, although it is enclosed. Once you are out of it, you feel you no longer belong to it. The idea of whether you're inside or outside switches once you drive away from the building in your car, or in my case, when you take the bus to the nearest train station.
It has always been in the evening that I take a return bus. One day, I wanted to see the area outside the mall. I was curious, like Truman Burbank in the film The Truman Show.
What I found was simply the world in which I live. Around the mall, new residences were being built. Lining the streets were shops of major electronics retailers or fast-food giants, and on the roads were the trucks that supported it all. OK. This is our world. What I had thought of as separate things were in fact connected, and the mall was part of that whole too.
I was sure that the medium-format rangefinder camera was the best fit for the theme. I'd been using the camera since I was a student, and I walked tirelessly with it and a foldable tripod all over Japan. The nature of the project seemed to have expanded from portraits to include landscapes as well.
The more I walked, the more aware I became of the surroundings of each mall. Malls have sides to them that even their creators couldn't have foreseen; and that was the making of the world which we had subconsciously taken for granted. In the twenty years that I've done this, I've always tried to imagine the stories behind the people and places in my photos, but there are still so many things I don't know.
I want to know people. I want to understand this vast world, even a tiny fraction of it. For that purpose, I choose photography. -- KEI ONO