Exhibition Title: PRIVATE SCENES
Venue: Foam Fotografiemuseum, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Period: 7 September – 12 December 2018
Exhibited series and materials:
A Game, Kill the Pig, Ravens, Color Approach, Yoko (as book), Memories of Father, Father, Sasuke, Private Scenes, Hibi, Bukubuku, Berobero, Ravens ’92, contact sheets, photo books, magazines, note and Nikon F3.
The life work of Japanese photographer Masahisa Fukase (Hokkaido, 1934-2012) remained largely inaccessible for over two decades, following a tragic fall that left the artist with permanent brain damage.
After his death the archives were gradually disclosed, revealing a wealth of material that had never been shown before. Foam presents a large-scale retrospective with original prints from the Masahisa Fukase Archives in Tokyo. In addition to his seminal body of work Ravens, the exhibition contains a number of important photo series, publications and documentation dating from the early 1960s to 1992. The works combine to form a remarkable visual biography of one of the most radical and experimental photographers of the post-war generation in Japan.
Masahisa Fukase – Private Scenes was created in collaboration with Tomo Kosuga, director of the Masahisa Fukase Archives.
The works were generously lent by the Masahisa Fukase Archives, represented by Michael Hoppen Gallery. Foam thanks Simon Baker, director of the Maison Européenne de la Photographie, and Les Rencontres d’Arles for their advice and involvement.
This exhibition is made possible by the Japan Foundation. With special thanks to Kyotographie, Frameman and Kleurgamma Fine Art Photolab.
Fukase incorporated his personal struggle with loss and depression into his work in a surprisingly playful manner. His subjects 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 huge number of 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.
Fukase worked almost exclusively in series, some of which came about over the course of several decades. He would become famous for his Ravens (1975-1985), an atmospheric and associative visual narrative conceived during a trip to his native Hokkaido. The series would become his life-work and is considered his absolute masterpiece. Ravens was published as a book in1986 and hailed as the best photobook of the past 25 years by the British Journal of Photography in 2010. The flocks of ravens, a sign of a approaching doom, formed a metaphor for Fukase’s state of mind as his marriage with Yoko was falling apart. A little-known fact is that Fukase also photographed his famous ravens in colour. The rare colour Polaroids from the Raven Scenes series (1985) are exhibited outside of Japan for the first time.
The coexistence of buoyancy and personal grief became a recurrent theme in Fukase’s work from an early date. In the exhibition Kill the Pig (1961), Fukase presented experimental studies of his pregnant wife and still-born child in combination with photographs made in a slaughterhouse: an at once playful and macabre reflection on love, life and death. Memories of Father (1971-1987) shows the life, the slow decay and ultimately the death of his father; a tender homage and a poignant ‘memento mori’. The sometimes humorous and sometimes earnest family portraits of Family (1971-1989), for which the artist portrayed his family in his parents’ photo studio year after year, form an exceptional family chronicle.
Fukase’s idiosyncrasy and inexhaustible drive to experiment culminated in the self-portraits and street scenes of Private Scenes(1990-1991), Hibi (1990-1992) and Berobero (1991). The series document Fukase’s wanderings through the streets and nightlife of Tokyo. Three months before his fateful fall, the works were presented in the exhibition Private Scenes (1992), along with Bukubuku (1991): a series of performative self-portraits of the artist in his bathtub. The prints are typically dated with the digital stamp Fukase started adding in the final years of his working life. Together the works form an idiosyncratic diary and mark out the days, months and years that Fukase spent living, and playing, in isolation.