Becoming bird

In 2010 Masahisa Fukase’s The Solitude of Ravens was, rather unforseen, selected as the best photo-book of the years 1986-2009. Unforeseen because the book is a kind of an obscure masterpiece, not really that well known.

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from Fukase: The Solitude of Ravens

The Japanese artist Masahisa Fukase (1934-2012) made the picture series Karasu (Ravens) – the works the book is based upon – between 1976 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, the fleshy form of a nude masseuse, and a malevolent-looking cat, it is the recurrent presence of the ravens that sets the ominous and cinematic tone of the work.

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from Fukase: The Solitude of Ravens

Akira Hasegawa writes: “In The Solitude of Ravens Masahisa Fukase’s work can be deemed to have reached its supreme height; it can also be said to have fallen to its greatest depth. (…) The depth of solitude in Masahisa Fukase’s photographs makes me shudder”

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.

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from Fukase: The Solitude of Ravens

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”.

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from Fukase: The Solitude of Ravens

Karasu (Ravens) has been described as one of the most poetic and mysterious photographic projects of the post-1945 period.

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