Masahisa Fukase died in June 9 (a month ago) at the age of 78. He was detained in a hospital in a coma since June 20, 1992, when he suffered a severe concussion after falling down stairs in a bar. He was drunk trying to escape from his perpetuating avian hell.
In 1974, his work was included in the exhibition New Japanese Photography at the Museum of Modern Art, curated by John Szarkowski and Shoji Yamagishi.
In 1976, when Yoko, his wife and muse for 13 years, decided to divorce, were tied by a bond so tight that covered "from the deepest pleasure to desire suicide and destruction".
The departure of Fukase's wife, Yoko, left no room for fond rememberance. It was on pilgrimage to the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido that he adopted the raven as the symbol of the pain which never left him.
"In The Solitude of Ravens Masahisa Fukase's work can be deemed to have reached its supreme height; it can also be said to have fallen to its greatest depth". So begins Akira Hasegawa's afterword to Fukase's The Solitude of Ravens, which was originally titled Karasu (Ravens) when it was published in Japan. There can be few photobooks sadder, lonelier, or more tragic than this sequence. Fukase had been famous for the joyous photographs he took of his wife but the marriage dissolved in 1976 and the emotions depicted in Fukase's portfolio began to reverse direction.
In The Solitude of Ravens, Masahisa Fukase leaves behind an expressionistic epitaph, a potent and agonizing physical and emotional pilgrimage through personal depression. Each exquisitely sequenced plate permeates with impending doom, and this tragically haunting narrative is overwhelming in its somber and deeply affecting power. The book he left behind is a record of a man who turned inward, leaving behind pure images of personal grief.
The raven is a creature heavy with imbued meaning. Edgar Allan Poe's Raven, whose "eyes have all the seeming of a demon's that is dreaming", was a conflict of darkness and light. There is a dangerous loneliness to the singular bird and a great gloom to the flock that weighs down a sky. Perched together on a spindly tree, they sit in apparent melancholy. The raven lends itself to a particularly Japanese aesthetic. Elegant and strong in silhouette, it could be said to resemble a calligraphic marking. One image in the book is of a large aeroplane blocking out most of the viewfinder, its outline resembling the raven.
The first edition of the book was published as Karasu in 1986, though it was also labelled The Ravens. The cover shows a black on black silhouette of a raven, similar to the photograph at the top of this article. The book, like many Japanese Photobooks, is housed in a simply brown cardboard slipcase, and is now incredibly rare (used can be found over 2000 euros) In 2010 a panel of five selected by the British Journal of Photography announced Karasu as the best published photography book published between 1986 and 2009.
“Even though Fukase made his pictures in bad light and bad weather, never bothering with technical niceties, the results are both luminous and beautiful,” say Martin Parr and Gerry Badger. “He enlarges tiny portions of his negatives, pushing for the limits of legibility. One climatic image of silhouetted birds in formation, wings outstretched against a grainy sky, metamorphoses into a wire news service image of overheard warplanes, a significant, and traumatic image for postwar Japan.”
As I read in another article this man died 3 times. First when he divorced with Yoko, his wife. The second time when he fell in coma 20 years ago and the final and liberating exit a month ago with his physical death.
R.I.P Masahisa Fukase, your Ravens will always be alive in our dreams, in our nightmares.
All photos ©Masahisa Fukase