Masahisa Fukase

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Masahisa Fukase (深瀬 昌久 Fukase Masahisa?, 25 February 1934 – 9 June 2012) was a Japanese photographer,[1][2][3] celebrated for his work depicting his domestic life with his wife Yōko Wanibe and his regular visits to his parents' small-town photo studio in Hokkaido. He is best known for his 1986 book Karasu (Ravens or The Solitude of Ravens), which in 2010 was selected by the British Journal of Photography as the best photobook published between 1986 and 2009. Since his death in 2012 there has been a revival of interest in Fukase's photography, with new books and exhibitions appearing that emphasize the breadth and originality of his art.

Life and career[edit]

Background and "Kazoku [family]"[edit]

Masahisa Fukase was born on 25 February 1934 in Bifuka, Hokkaido. His family ran a successful photo studio in the small northern town. Despite permanently moving to Tokyo in the 1950s to pursue his education and then career, Fukase retained strong emotional ties to his birthplace and family. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s he returned regularly to Bifuka to make large-format family portraits, a project that was eventually published in the book Kazoku (Family) in 1991. This is the rarest of Fukase's photobooks.

Early career and self-representation[edit]

Among Fukase's earliest bodies of artistic work is "Kill the Pigs" of 1961, consisting of dark and often gruesome photographs made over the course of repeated visits to the Shibaura slaughterhouse in Tokyo.[4] Subsequently he experimented with various journalistic and artistic styles, contributing dozens of photo essays to such magazines as Camera Mainichi, Asahi Camera, and Asahi Journal. His first photobook, Yūgi, was published in 1971 and includes numerous photographs of his first wife, Yukiyo Kawakami, and his second wife, Yōko Wanibe. Interestingly the book was described at the time as a work of "self-representation,"[5] but it contains no discernible photographs of Fukase himself. Accordingly, it can be considered the photographer's first attempt to describe his own passionate, self-indulgent, and sometimes violent life by indirect means. Fukase's next book, Yōko (1978), is a logical successor to the first insofar as it represents another attempt to "show" his life through representations of a female 'other'.[6]

Karasu [Ravens][edit]

Fukase's Karasu (Ravens), was shot between 1976 and 1982 in the wake of his divorce from Yōko Wanibe, and during the early period of his marriage to the writer Rika Mikanagi. The series is an extension of his experimentation with oblique and metaphorical self-expression in the 'A Play' photo essays of the early '70s – especially "Natsu no nikki [Summer Journal]" of December 1972 and "Fuyu no nikki [Winter Journal]" of June 1973.[7] Indeed, Fukase's original title for the series was "Tonpokuki" or "Winter Journal".[8] The photographs of ravens and other rather bleak subjects that constitute the source imagery of Karasu were taken in Hokkaido, Kanazawa, and Tokyo. The project originated as an eight-part series for the magazine Camera Mainichi (1976–82), and these photo essays reveal that Fukase experimented with colour film, multiple exposure printing, and narrative text as part of the development of the Karasu concept. Beginning in 1976, exhibitions based on this new body of work brought Fukase widespread recognition in Japan, and subsequently in Europe and the United States. The book was published in 1986 (by Sōkyūsha) and this original edition of Ravens soon became one of the most respected and sought-after Japanese photobooks of the post-war era.[9] Subsequent editions were published in 1991 (Bedford Arts) and 2008 (Rat Hole Gallery). The heavily autobiographical approach of Karasu has its origins in Fukase's foundational photo essay, "Hyōten [Freezing Point]," of 1961, but it pushes the central themes of isolation and tragedy to new levels of depth and abstraction.[10] Technically the photographs of ravens were very difficult to achieve, with Fukase having to focus his camera on the small, moving black subjects in almost total darkness. Setting correct exposures was equally challenging.[11] In 1976, at the outset of the project, Fukase stated in Camera Mainichi: "I'm wishing that I could stop this world. This act [of photography] may represent my own revenge play against life, and perhaps that is what I enjoy most." By the project's end in 1982 Fukase wrote enigmatically that he had "become a raven".[11] In 2010, a panel of five experts convened by the British Journal of Photography selected Karasu as the best photobook of 1986–2009.[12]

1992 Accident and "Bukubuku"[edit]

In 1992 Fukase suffered traumatic brain injury from a fall down the steep steps of his favourite bar in the "Golden Gai" area of Shinjuku, Tokyo, and the damage left him incapacitated.[13] Earlier that year Miyako Ishiuchi had photographed Fukase nude for her book Chromosome XY (1995). Some of the images from that session were published in the magazine Brutus in January 1995.[14] Ishiuchi has said that Fukase was almost alone among Japanese male photographers in accepting to pose nude for her camera.[15] In 2004 the Masahisa Fukase Trust edited and had published two photobooks, Hysteric Twelve and Bukubuku, based on bodies of work Fukase had completed before his debilitating fall. The photographs contained in Bukubuku, made in a bathtub with an underwater camera, have come to be regarded as Fukase's last great work, a whimsical if somewhat morbid game of solitaire that charts new territory for the photographic self-portrait.[11]

Death and recent developments[edit]

Fukase died on 9 June 2012.[16] In 2015 two exhibitions designed to highlight some of his lesser-known work were co-ordinated by the Masahisa Fukase Archives. These were From Window which formed part of the Another Language: 8 Japanese Photographers exhibition at Rencontres d’Arles,[17] France, and The Incurable Egoist at Diesel Art Gallery, Tokyo.[18] Fukase’s complete set of 30 Bukubuku prints will be exhibited for the first time since 1992 at the Tate Modern show Performing for the Camera in February 2016.

Selected exhibitions[edit]


  • Yūgi (遊戯 / Homo Ludence). Eizō no Gendai 4. Tokyo: Chūōkōronsha, 1971.
  • Yōko (洋子 / Yohko). Sonorama Shashin Sensho 8. Tokyo: Asahi Sonorama, 1978.
  • Biba! Sasuke (ビバ! サスケ / Viva Sasuke). Tokyo: Pet-Life-sha, 1979.
  • Sasuke, Itoshiki Neko yo (サスケ、いとしき猫よ / Sasuke, My Dear Cat). Tokyo: Seinen-shokan, 1979.
  • Neko no Mugi Wara Boshi (猫の麦わら帽子 / The Strawhat Cat). Tokyo: Bunka Shuppankyoku, 1979.
  • Kūkai to Kōyasan (空海と高野山 / Kūkai and Mount Kōya). Nihon no Seiiki 2. Tokyo: Kōsei Shuppansha, 1982. ISBN 4-333-01042-X.
  • Karasu ( / Ravens). Yokohama: Sōkyūsha, 1986. In Japanese and English.
  • Kazoku (家族 / Family). Tokyo: IBC, 1991. ISBN 4-87198-832-5.
  • The Solitude of Ravens: a Photographic Narrative. San Francisco: Bedford Arts, 1991. ISBN 0-938491-23-7. US reprint of the 1986 book, in English only.
  • Chichi no Kioku (父の記憶 / Memories of Father). Tokyo: IBC, 1991. ISBN 4-87198-833-3.
  • Fukase Masahisa (深瀬昌久). Nihon no Shashinka 34. Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1998. ISBN 4-00-008374-0.
  • Bukubuku (家族 / Bubbling). Tokyo: Hysteric Glamour, 2004.
  • Fukase Masahisa (深瀬昌久). Hysteric Twelve. Tokyo: Hysteric Glamour, 2004.
  • Karasu ( / The Solitude of Ravens). Tokyo: Rat Hole Gallery, 2008. Reprint of the 1986 book, with afterword in Japanese and English.
  • To () / Slaughter. Kamakura: Super Labo, 2015. ISBN 978-4-905052-81-4.[n 1]
  • Wonderful Days. Tokyo: Roshin Books, 2015. ISBN 978-4-9907230-3-3.
  • Hibi. London: Mack, 2016. ISBN 9781910164457. Photographs of the surface of streets, printed and painted over for his Private Scenes ‘92 solo exhibition at a Nikon Salon in Tokyo in 1992.[23]

Selected photo essays[edit]

  • "Danchi shunpū [Spring Wind in the Danchi]: A Play 4," Camera Mainichi, April 1971, pages 9-23.
  • "Kyōri [Hometown]: A Play 5," Camera Mainichi, October 1971: pages 110-21.
  • "Natsu no nikki [Summer Journal]: A Play 7," Camera Mainichi, December 1972: pages 76-82.
  • "Fuyu no nikki [Winter Journal]: A Play 8," Camera Mainichi, June 1973: 119-27.
  • "Karasu 1", Camera Mainichi, October 1976, pages 111–115.
  • "Karasu 2", Camera Mainichi, November 1976, pages 85–99.
  • "Karasu 3", Camera Mainichi, January 1978, pages 133–41.
  • "Karasu 4", Camera Mainichi, June 1978, pages 95–100.
  • "Karasu 5", Camera Mainichi, June 1979, pages 100–113.
  • "Karasu 6", Camera Mainichi, March 1980, pages 7–17.
  • "Karasu 7: Tokyo hen", Camera Mainichi, July 1981, pages 71–9.
  • "Karasu--Shūshō", Camera Mainichi, November 1982, pages 120–139 and 202–203.


  1. ^ Super Labo's page about the booklet is here.


  1. ^ Fukase, Masahisa. In: Grove Dictionary of Art. London: Macmillan, 2000. Accessed 1 March 2011.
  2. ^ Nihon Shashinka Jiten (日本写真家事典 / 328 Outstanding Japanese Photographers). Kyoto: Tankōsha, 2000. ISBN 4-473-01750-8. (Japanese) Despite the alternative title, in Japanese only.
  3. ^ a b Holborn, Mark. Black Sun: the Eyes of Four. Roots and Innovation in Japanese Photography. New York: Aperture, 1986. ISBN 0-89381-211-0.
  4. ^ Asahi Camera, September 1961, page 133.
  5. ^ Nada, Inada, “Rōrushahha, waisetsu, tabū, asobi, soshite Fukase [Rorschach, Obscenity, Taboo, Play, and Fukase]” in Fukase Masahisa, Yūgi [English title: Homo Ludence]. Tokyo: Chūō kōron sha, 1971, unpaginated.
  6. ^ Fukase's first published photographs of Yōko can be found in his photo essay "Hana yome," Camera Mainichi, August 1964, pages 46–50. See also Charrier, Philip "'Becoming a Raven': Self-Representation, Narration, and Metaphor in Fukase Masahisa's Karasu Photographs," Japanese Studies, Volume 29, Issue 2, September 2009, pages 209–234.
  7. ^ Charrier, Philip "'Becoming a Raven': Self-Representation, Narration, and Metaphor in Fukase Masahisa's Karasu Photographs," Japanese Studies, Volume 29, Issue 2, September 2009, pages 224–7
  8. ^ Masahisa Fukase, "Karasu--shūshō," Camera Mainichi, November 1982, 202–3.
  9. ^ Kaneko, Ryūichi and Ivan Vartanian, Japanese Photobooks of the 1960s and '70s. New York: Aperture, 2009, pages 232–237.
  10. ^ Fukase Masahisa and Yamamoto Michiko, "Hyōten" [Freezing Point], Fuoto Aato [Photo Art], November 1961, 52–55 and Charrier, Philip, "Research Journal on Masahisa Fukase, 2007–2008,"
  11. ^ a b c Charrier, Philip. 'Becoming a Raven': Self-Representation, Narration, and Metaphor in Fukase Masahisa's 'Karasu' Photographs. Japanese Studies, Volume 29, Issue 2, September 2009, pages 209–234.
  12. ^ Bainbridge, Simon. Ravens Tops All Photobooks in BJP Poll. British Journal of Photography, 5 May 2010. Accessed 1 March 2011.
  13. ^ O'Hagan, Sean. Masahisa Fukase's Ravens: the Best Photobook of the Past 25 Years? The Guardian, 24 May 2010. Accessed 1 March 2011.
  14. ^ Brutus, 15 January 1995, pages 38–45.
  15. ^ Charrier, Philip, "Research Journal on Masahisa Fukase, 2007–2008,"
  16. ^ 写真家の深瀬昌久さん死去 「洋子」「鴉」など, Asahi Shinbun, 11 June 2012. Accessed 11 June 2012.
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^ University of Iowa Museum of Art. Exhibitions 1987. Accessed 30 January 2011.
  20. ^ Dubin, Zan. Black Sun: the Dawn of the Nuclear Age Has Inspired an Exhibit of Work by Four of Japan's Foremost Contemporary Photographers. Los Angeles Times, 23 August 1987. Accessed 30 January 2011.
  21. ^ Cook, Joan. Going on in the Northeast. New York Times, 28 August 1988. Accessed 30 January 2011.
  22. ^ Stephen Wirtz Gallery. Masahisa Fukase. The Unpublished Works. 30 May – 30 June 2001. Accessed 30 January 2011.
  23. ^ "Masahisa Fukase: Hibi". Mack. Retrieved 5 April 2016. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]