To whoever alerted me to Anna Fox’s work, thank you thank you thank you! And if this is the first you’ve heard of Fox’s work, you’re welcome!
You may know that I have a love for the so-called onnanoko shashin era of Japanese photography. The diaristic work of Yurie Nagashima and Hiromix is the sort of work I wish I could make and when I need some inspiration, I grab one of their books first. Well, at about the same time Hiromix was blowing up, Anna Fox was living in a flat on the other side of the world, making what amounts to, in my imagination, a British version of pretty much the same sort of work. Her rather rare Cockroach Diary is a sort of zine/book facsimile of a diary she kept between 1996 and 1999, when she lived in a roach infested
squat flat with a shifting group of friends, and it’s really incredible.
To be honest, I’m not entirely sure of the veracity or contemporaneity of the entries in the diary portion. They’re all dated and handwritten, with cross-outs and all, but the dates are so sporadic, the gaps so wide, that either Fox is a worse diarist even than me, or she took snippets from another diary and collated them, or maybe it’s all fiction.
No matter: it’s hilarious and pretty much spot-on. I too lived in a pest-infested apartment with a shifting cast of characters: Brad, Amber, Kevin, Adam, Fritz, a few others whose names I don’t remember, and they’re just the ones that stayed more than a couple of months. There were little spats between different occupants, shifting alliances, affairs, confidences kept and broken. I suspect many people—many, not all, and I wonder if the Millenials did this too… the Zennials or whatever they’re called don’t seem to be so much: college is too expensive and rents are too high—had similar experiences, with or without the cockroaches.
Would that I had the wherewithal to photograph the pests in my apartment(s) back then.* Oh well. Fox’s photographs, in the second little volume, are straight ahead and funny, with a bit of a Where’s Waldo character, all flash lit and close focus and late-1990s film aesthetic. If you watch the video above, you might see why I liken it to Hiromix and Nagashima. Sure, there are no selfies, no friends, not of the human variety anyway, but it’s a similar inward-looking thing, especially with the diary thing, and I’m a big fan.
You’re unlikely to find Cockroach Diary anywhere. It was a smallish edition, as far as I know, and it hasn’t been reprinted. I found a deal, and still paid quite a bit for the copy I have, and the slipcase is a bit beat up. At time of writing, bookfinder only found one copy, and the bookseller lists it for $160. I didn’t pay near that much,** and don’t think it’s worth it, though it is, quite simply, great.
EDIT: I made a few errors in the above. First, I didn’t bother to link to Fox’s website. Shame on me. She doesn’t list Cockroach Diary in her publications, but still. Second, the Cockroach motel Fox lived at in the late 1990s wasn’t her first: she began photographing in the early 1980s, and is part of the Paul Graham generation, not the Nagashima/Hiromix generation, and any similarities to there work is simply my imagination. Also, despite similarities, her apartment back then probably wasn’t her first, her friends there were likely older—one was a mother, which I recognized in reading the diary, but I thought “young mother,” very early 20s, not probably-30s—and she already had several exhibitions and a couple of monographs to her credit.
And I call myself a researcher… smh.***
*I have photographs from the period… I thought I shared them at one point, but if I did, I can’t find them now. Oh well.
**I paid less than 1/4, in fact, so if you want one, check bookfinder often.
***You will read something similar to this in my review of Fox’s My Mother’s Cupboards & My Father’s Words, coming Wednesday, 13 October 2021.