Masahisa Fukase

Born on Hokkaido, the northernmost island of Japan, Masahisa Fukase was the third generation in his family to pursue photography. Fukase attended Nihon University in the 1950s, a period of ferment during which artists and students called for a focus on the individual’s aspirations as opposed to the traditional collective concerns of society. After graduating in 1956 with a degree in photography, Fukase began working for the Dai-Ichi advertising agency. Thereafter he began to build his reputation through a series of exhibitions, including a solo show with an industrial theme entitled Sky over an Oil Refinery in 1960, and another solo show featuring a series of slaughterhouses entitled Kill the Pigs in 1961. The latter - called by critics “a personal and violent document” - gave Fukase his first exposure in a photography magazine (Photo Art). Throughout the 1960s, Fukase received regular attention in such journals such as Camera Mainichi and Asahi Journal.

In 1964 Fukase married Wanibe Yoko, who was his central subject during their twelve-year marriage and continued to affect his art thereafter. With Yoko, Fukase plunged into an extreme existence marked by artistic and sexual experimentation, rendering their lives highly unstable but catalysing a spontaneous and prolific productivity. Several publications attest to Fukase’s productivity - and Yoko’s willing and improvisational participation - during this chaotic period.

Fukase has acknowledged the inspiration of a number of American photographers, including Ishimoto Yasuhiro (an American of Japanese descent), as well as Aaron Siskind, Harry Callahan, Garry Winograd, and Lee Friedlander. In 1974 Fukase was included in the seminal Museum of Modern Art exhibition New Japanese Photography. In 1977 he was awarded the Ina Nobuo Prize. 

Despite this productivity and attendant fame, the years after Yoko left Fukase were marked by depression and self-destructive behaviour. Grief-stricken Fukase retreated to his native Hokkaido. There he chanced upon a flock of ravens, which are considered an omen of misfortune or death in Japan. The birds inspired Fukase’s most famous body of work, Karasu (Ravens, 1986: English edition published as The Solitude of Ravens [1991]), photographed in low light. The ravens did indeed prove an omen of misfortune: in 1992 Fukase fell down a staircase in a bar he frequented and remained comatose until his death in 2012. 

The photos in IBASHO’s collection are from the series Karasu and are two 8 x 10 inch Polaroid works made by Fukase while he was experimenting with the Polaroid 8 x 10 inch film processor. The Polaroids are signed by Fukase and were shown at the exhibition Ravens at the Polaroid Gallery in Tokyo in 1986.