Made me better than before, Pilsen, Chicago, by Akito TsudaPosted: March 5, 2016
For four years, Akito walked the streets of Pilsen, a Latino neighborhood of Chicago: an immigrant among immigrants, which is that story that Akito tells us in his book. Slow work, in which we discover the life of a neighborhood. A piece of work that requires a lot of patience and availability, and, of course, a high level of empathy.
It has, however, taken twenty years to discover this work. Akito first came in Illinois in 1989 to work as a housekeeper, then started studying photography in Chicago. It was during his second year that he discovered the neighborhood of Pilsen, in 1990. Fascinated by the life of this neighborhood, people in the street and the atmosphere, he returns frequently and bind with locals. He quickly gaining their trust, despite the language barrier, since he did not speak Spanish and his English was limited. It is the photographs that linked. The people were open mind to him, both on the street and in their homes. Once finished his series, he only showed some pictures to some fellow students, a few magazines… and that’s it. Only recently, with the emergence of social networks, his work has surfaced. The possibility, via Facebook, to find those people who appear on the old photographs, to know what happened to them 20 years later, will enlighten this work and the idea of making a book will see the light.
It is a book of humility, self-published in a small print run (only 150 copies). The layout is simple but generous, generally one photo per page, and sometimes series that share a double page. Print quality is a bit poor, but ultimately, we could say that it gives justice to these people. There would be a paradox to see these images printed on a luxurious paper, almost disrespectful, and thus it remains an affordable book. The book is quite dense, and when browsing through the pages, one enters the district of Pilsen, reflecting its charm, which lies mainly in the friendliness of its inhabitants; the aesthetics of the area remains that of a poor suburban neighborhood as found in all American cities. The photographs are invading us, a gaze captures us, it is like walking in the street alongside Akito, one would even try to answer to this child who challenges us. Akito has a soft look, full of empathy on these people. Despite the social context, we never fall in a dark aesthetic ease of misery, whatever the circumstances, people are happy to live, proud of what they are and what they have.
We also find in the book some stray dogs, recurring subject in Akito Tsuda’s work since he published two other books on stray dogs and cats. Impossible not to see the metaphor of the foreigner into an unknown territory struggling for a daily survival. We even find them on the cover, as the symbol of this shelter that Akito found in this neighborhood, a blended family. And of course, there are also references for the young photography student he was. Impossible not to think of New York by William Klein, Bruce Davidson’s Harlem, or more generally to America seen by Jim Goldberg, basically all these photographers, before Akito Tsuda, who were interested in… others.
Softcover book, 21 x 21 cm, 124 pages, black and white photos, laser printing. 150 copies signed and numbered.
And an interview here : http://chicagovoz.org/2015/12/30/a-book-published-in-japan-captures-mexican-pilsen-in-the-90s/
Photos copyright Akito Tsuda