Masahisa Fukase, 1974

Masahisa Fukase (Hokkaido, 1934 – 2012) is considered one of the most radical and experimental photographers of the post-war generation in Japan. He would become world-renowned for his photographic series and subsequent publication Karasu (The English title: Ravens, 1975 – 1985), which is widely celebrated as a photographic masterpiece. And yet the larger part of his oeuvre remained largely inaccessible for over two decades. In 1992 a tragic fall had left the artist with permanent brain damage, and it was only after his death in 2012 that the archives were gradually disclosed. Since then a wealth of material has surfaced that had never been shown before. 

Fukase worked almost exclusively in series, some of which came about over the course of several decades. The works combine to form a remarkable visual biography of one of the most original photographers of his time. Fukase incorporated his own life experiences of loss, love, loneliness, and depression into his work in a surprisingly playful manner. His images are personal and highly intimate: over the years, his wife Yoko, his dying father, and his beloved cat Sasuke regularly featured in sometimes comical, at other times sombre visual narratives. Towards the end of this working life, the photographer increasingly turned the camera on himself. The vast number of performative self-portraits (precursors to today’s ubiquitous selfie) testifies to the singular, almost obsessive way that the artist related to his surroundings – and to himself.

Though Fukase has become almost synonymous with his atmospheric black-and-white Ravens, his buoyant abstractions in color, giant Polaroids, and wildly painted selfies reveal the artist’s inexhaustible resourcefulness and versatility. Work for Fukase rarely stopped after taking a photograph, as is evidenced by the experimental ways in which the artist presented his work – in print or as exhibitions – during his lifetime. 

Fukase was born in the town of Hokkaido, Japan, in 1934, the son of a successful local studio photographer. He graduated from Nihon University College of Art’s Photography Department in 1956 and became a freelance photographer in 1968 following brief stints at the Nippon Design Center and Kawade Shobo Shinsha Publishers.

His work has been exhibited widely at institutions such as MoMA, New York, the Oxford Museum of Modern Art, the Foundation Cartier pour l’Art Contemporain, and the Victoria & Albert Museum. His work is held in major collections including the Victoria & Albert Museum, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and The Getty Museum. He is also the winner of prizes including the 2nd Ina Nobuo Award, as well as the Special Award at the 8th Higashikawa Photography Awards.