I remember my first claustrophobia-induced panic attack. I was 12 or 13 years old and my younger brother and I had made a cave under the pull out bed in the back of our family van (back when no one cared about seat belts or safety). We made our beds, surrounded the area with various stuffed animals and snacks, and crawled in with our flashlights and books. On this particular road trip, we had a 6-hour drive ahead of us and so I took a little nap. I remember waking up and seeing darkness. I had tangled myself in the blankets; stuffed animals surrounded me and I couldn’t breathe. I started freaking out and after what seemed like a lifetime, untangled myself, pushed my brother aside and have never, ever liked small spaces again.


When I saw photographer Won Kim’s series, Enclosed: Living Small, I had the same feelings of panic bubble up in my belly. In Tokyo, there is a tiny hotel that takes up one floor of an office building. Designed for backpackers, Kim stumbled upon it a few years ago while backpacking himself. He returned to photograph the tiny spaces for this project and learned that, though some people stay for only a short amount of time, there were others there that had made the cubby holes their permanent homes. Each room had no windows and no doors (like the Haunted Mansion ride at Disneyland); only a curtain, which served as a door, offered some semblance of privacy between your unfinished plywood walled room and your neighbor’s room.

Kim spent several months living in the hotel to capture the following images for this series. In order to convince the residents to allow him a peek into their private lives, Kim offered each participant a 15-minute shoulder massage. From makeshift shelves to little, personalized touches, each cramped space reflects the unique personality of its occupant and how they made use of their areas. That is the real charm of this series, a peek into the lives of the passerby, so vastly different than what most of us are used to. Kim states,

For me, the real interest of the resulting portraits is in how each resident has made use of a such a small, confining space. In each case, the sharply-defined space and its contents tell something about its occupant’s personality, and his or her ability to function in such a strange, enclosed environment.

More Images from the Collection










See more of Won Kim’s work on his website here and follow him on Instagram and Twitter.

CREDITS: Photographs by Won Kim are copyrighted and have been used with permission for SLR Lounge. Do not copy, modify or re-post this article or images without express permission from SLR Lounge and the artist.