Artist Profile: Photographer Keita Inoue Captures Traces of a Solitary Life Interrupted

It feels like trespassing. Maybe because it is trespassing. We’re in the Bachelor’s kitchen and it’s a mess—upturned boxes, piles of letters and files, clothing, shoes, appliances in unruly piles. The schoolhouse-turned-home is abandoned, and was never cleaned out after its resident died 10 years ago. We may be trespassing, but the house is not posted with signs. The outer door is closed but not locked, and all the windows, save a quarter-pane in the basement, are intact, as is the roof and structure generally. The interior is disordered and musty and the ceiling caved in, disgorging plaster and insulation—but beyond that, it’s as if the Bachelor went away for the weekend, never to return.

Words: Ned Morgan :: Photos: Keita Inoue

 

The school opened in 1907 and closed in 1965. From dates on letters and legal documents, we determined that the Bachelor moved in sometime in the 1990s, before which he lived in Toronto (he emigrated from eastern Europe in the mid-1950s). From the exterior the building appears little changed from its educational days (ie, the bell is still in the bell tower) but inside, the vibe is all Bachelor.

 

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The bottle-cap-and-shell-casing curtain the Bachelor probably made himself (you can’t buy these in stores). The pictures on the wall are mostly aviation and space-program-related—a major preoccupation. In a box we find several photos of military aircraft taken through high barbed-wire-topped fences, suggesting the remote but tantalizing possibility that the Bachelor was a Cold War spy.

 

I call him “Bachelor” because he was clearly single and because I won’t give you his name, to protect his family’s privacy. I’m in the schoolhouse at an undisclosed location with photographer Keita Inoue, whose work focuses on abandoned spaces—but this house is a bonus. Unlike many of the structures he shoots, it is easily accessed, and it’s full of photogenic material. There’s a story lying in this scattered profusion of papers, photos, postcards, clothes, mementoes and bric-a-brac, if it could be reliably told. Because it can’t, we’ll rely on Inoue’s photography to pick out the richest clues and arrive at a kind of open-ended, endlessly evocative narrative of a life in fragments.

 

The Bachelor, who according to his passport was born in 1924 and died circa 2007, surely lived through the golden age of the magazine. Hundreds of issues of National Geographic are stacked in order and undisturbed on a shelf, as are the publications of the trade union he belonged to (we determined that the Bachelor designed and built industrial-grade pumps for a living.) This Liberty title may be a surprising addition (“Canada’s Young Family Magazine”) considering some of the other magazines lying about. One reason we’re sure he was a bachelor—apart from the total lack of clues that he ever lived with a woman—is that no married man would possess so many “girlie” publications in plain view.

 

A neighbour told Keita Inoue that the Bachelor had a son he never knew, who showed up at the schoolhouse after his father’s death. We could find out nothing further about the son but according to the neighbour, he stayed in the schoolhouse for a period of months. Then for reasons unknown, he left and never returned, leaving these remnants of his father’s life in disarray. I can only speculate that the letters and other documents, including legal forms, were out on the kitchen table because the son was trying to make sense of the life of the father he never knew.

 

The den with wet bar was probably the site of the liveliest times in the Bachelor’s residence in the schoolhouse. The twin blackboards seem to be the sole holdovers from the classroom days. The writing on the blackboards, much of it bizarre or illegible, probably post-dates the Bachelor. The booze is long gone from the bar, but all the accoutrements remain. 

 

More Bachelor pastimes on display here: hunting and fishing, “girlie” graphics, cheap knick-knacks, board games. And over the fireplace, another bottle-cap-and-shell-casing curtain. The eyeglasses on the table match those worn in his last passport photo.

Keita Inoue’s exhibit Afterimage is showing at The Press Gallery (65 Simcoe Street) in Collingwood until January 14 and is coming to Meaford Hall in June 2018. See more of Inoue’s work at leftahead.ca 

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