Solitude of Ravens, 2016

Masahisa Fukase’s Karasu (Ravens) was made between 1975 and 1982 in the wake of his wife Yōko Wanibe divorcing him. The visual narrative of the series revolves around the anthropomorphic form of the raven. Dead and alive the birds punctuate the work; lone birds reduced to shadow puppetry against the snow or dislocated flocks that mimic the grain of the photographs themselves. Although interjected with other subjects such as blizzard streaked streets or the fleshy form of a nude masseuse, it is the recurrent presence of the ravens that sets the ominous and cinematic tone of the work. 

Akira Hasegawa in her poetic afterword to the book summarises Ravens with the following: “In the case of Masahisa Fukase, the subject of his gaze became the raven. For him, the “raven” was both a tangible creature and a fitting symbol of his own solitude”. At the end of the project in 1982 Fukase himself enigmatically wrote that he had “become a raven”.

Ravens are an omnipresent feature of urban Japan. As in the west, the image of the raven is seen as the harbinger of dark times. Fukase came to prominence as a photographer in the aftermath of WWII and as such the series has, on occasion, been read as a commentary upon the shadow cast by Japan’s defeat. Inherently abstract this elusive soliloquy is open to multiple interpretations. Primarily, however, the photographs are a personal lament reflecting the darkened vision of the photographer himself. Regarded by many as the most important body of work to come out of postwar Japan, Ravens’ haunting imagery continues to inspire artists and writers today.

Masahisa Fukase was born in the town of Bifuka in the Nakagawa District, Hokkaido, Japan in 1934. He graduated from the Nihon University College of Art’s Photography Department in 1956. Fukase became a freelance photographer in 1968 after working at the Nippon Design Center and Kawade Shobo Shinsha Publishers. In the mid 1970s he set up a photographic school, The Workshop, with Daido Moriyma and Shomei Tomatsu.

Masahisa Fukase’s work has been exhibited widely at institutions such as MoMA, New York, USA; Oxford Museum of Modern Art, Oxford, UK; Fondation Cartier pour l’Art Contemporain, Paris, France and the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, UK. His work is held in major collections including the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, UK; SFMoMA, San Francisco, USA, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA and The Getty Museum, Los Angeles, USA.  He is also the winner of prizes such as the 2nd Ina Nobuo Award in 1976 for his exhibition “Karasu” as well as the Special Award at the 8th Higashikawa Photography Awards in 1992.