Masahisa Fukase at TOP Museum Tokyo

Every art form has a notion of a cult work, that is something that is not widely known but develops a following, often amongst the cognoscenti. As I was developing my interest in photography, one of the first cult works recommended to me was a book called The Solitude of Ravens by the Japanese photographer Masahisa Fukase. Around 2008 I snagged one online for thirty bucks or so, just before they went up in price tenfold. Without knowing anything about Fukase, the Ravens series immediately drew me in with its arresting depiction of the forlornness of nature via the birds in the title. I felt their pull anew on my recent visit to Japan – somehow on this trip I kept noticing ravens every day.

Hiroshi Sugimoto’s Enoura Observatory

One begins to acquire a new level of understanding of Hiroshi Sugimoto’s work – especially his seascape series – as the train gets closer to Odawara, where his art foundation is situated, crowned by the Enoura Observatory, Sugimoto’s architectural project that opened in 2017 after more than twenty years of planning. It helps if it rains, as it did on the day I visited, which makes the water of the Sagami Bay and its bordering sky look like two sheets of gray steel that meet at slightly different angles. “Sorry for the weather but Sugimoto prefers a rainy day, because the stones are very beautiful under the rain,” wrote his press office as I mulled changing the day of my visit. But of course he does. The rain highlights the specific melancholy beauty that comes out when you pay attention to the minute details of nature and of man’s respectful interference with it. There is a lot of such beauty in Japan, and though cliches like “wabi sabi” and “Japanese esthetics” are hard to avoid, this specific beauty, one that whispers and demands contemplation and slowing down and paying attention remains unmatched in its subtlety. Read Junichiro Tanizaki’s quiet masterpiece In Praise of Shadows, and you will understand.