Exhibition Title: The Whimsical and Eye
Venue: MEM, Tokyo
Period: April 15 – May 21 2023
Exhibited series and materials:
Ravens, Yoko, Sasuke, magazines
Masahisa Fukase (1934-2012) was born in Bifuka, Hokkaido. Photography was firmly ingrained in his upbringing helping his family’s photography business at the Fukase Photo Studio. This early exposure provided him with a solid foundation as he acquired his first camera in his first year of high school and began submitting his work to photography magazines. When he was 18, he moved to Tokyo to enroll in the Department of Photography at Nihon University College of Art. After graduation, he did not return to his hometown, instead choosing to work as a commercial photographer for the advertising company Daiichi Senden Sha while producing his photographic works in Tokyo. In 1961, Fukase had a solo exhibition, Kill the Pig, which included photographs of a slaughterhouse and portraits of his domestic partner and of his stillborn child; some were subsequently published in photography magazines. In 1963, he met Yoko Wanibe, his future spouse, and in 1978, he published the photobook Yohko, a collection of photographs in which she prominently featured as a model. In 1971, his first photobook, Yugi (Homo Ludence) (Chuo Koronsha), was published. In 1974, the New Japanese Photography exhibition (Museum of Modern Art, New York), supervised by Shoji Yamagishi, editor of the Camera Mainichi magazine, and John Szarkowski, featured his series, Yohko. At around the time of his divorce to Yoko in 1976, Fukase traveled back to his hometown in Hokkaido and began to photograph ravens. These photographs eventually led to the creation of his iconic series, which he would show in solo exhibitions, published in magazines, and compiled into the eponymous photobook Ravens (Sokyu-sha, 1986). In 1978, he began photographing cats and published those photos in Viva! Sasuke (Petlife-sha, 1978) and others.
Fukase’s extensive photographic career encompasses a diverse array of works. Walking Eye is a series of photographs taken while traversing the length of a river in Tokyo from its origin to its mouth. Memories of Father was a series of domestic snapshots taken in Hokkaido over 20 years until his father Sukezo’s death. In Private Scenes, Fukase frames his face or feet into his images; in Bukubuku, he captures himself in various positions while submerged in bathwater; and Berobero features photographs of his tongue intertwined with those of people he met in bars. He was an artist who ran wildly outside the bounds of photographic convention. This exhibition highlights the whimsical nature of Fukase’s oeuvre through a selection of photographs from three of his iconic series, Raven, Yohko, and Sasuke.