If there was one leitmotif in the work of the Japanese photographer Masahisa Fukase, it’s solitude, or more precisely, loneliness. It seemed to follow him everywhere in his life, down to his troubled relationship with his wife. Perhaps in order to view the world at a remove of the photo lens, which allowed for some defined boundary with it, Fukase lost himself in photography. His camera’s frame allowed him to reframe life that increasingly slipped away from him due to his problems with alcohol and an unhappy marriage.
On a trip to his home island of Hokkaido in 1976, Fukase began photographing crows, gradually adding to a series of photos that he called Ravens, one that would go on to become one of the most revered in Japanese photography. Few bodies of work go into the depths of loneliness the way Ravens does. The deceptively simple black-and-white images are haunted by longing frozen in the moment. What you see is not despair but a quiet ache of an observer that is often more painful because it is relentless.
Ravens was published into a book in 1986. It immediately sold out, as did its 1991 reprint, in which publishers took some poetic license in calling the book “The Solitude of Ravens.” Today, used copies of these fetch $300 on the secondary market. But you no longer have to chase one down thanks to a new edition of Ravens, published by MACK in London. The 136-page cloth-bound volume contains the 80 original black-and-white photographs. The book comes in a slipcase and is accompanied by a new text by the founder of Masahisa Fukase Archives, Tomo Kusaga. It’s a fine volume, and my only gripe is that the publishers would use matte paper instead of its glossy stock, which I think would do more justice to Fukase’s photos. Nevertheless, this very welcome reprint is a must for any fan of Japanese photography.
Ravens: Masahisa Fukase, published by MACK (€80/£75/$85)