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Book Review: Ravens


Book Review Ravens By Masahisa Fukase Reviewed by A/fixed From the highest peak to the deepest valley, Fukase’s photographs take the viewer on a powerful roller coaster ride through a period of Fukase’s career that was turbulent in its own right: the first images of the series were taken in 1975, as his marriage to his wife, Yoko Wanibe, began to disintegrate.
Ravens By Masahisa FukaseMack, 2017.
 
Ravens
Reviewed by A/fixed

Ravens.
Photographs by Masahisa Fukase.
Mack, London, England, 2017. 136 pp., 80 black-and-white illustrations, 10¼x10¼".

“In Ravens, Fukase’s work can be deemed to have reached its utmost height and to have also fallen to its greatest depth. The sense of isolation and solitude exposed in this work is so potent that it is agonizing to look at, or even to avert one’s gaze.” These ruminations were offered by Akira Hasegawa in the original edition of Ravens, photographer Masahisa Fukase’s 1986 masterpiece. Also featured in the latest reissue of the pivotal photo book offered by MACK Publishing, Hasegawa’s reflections offer a satisfying synthesis of what Fukase accomplishes in this book.

Ravens By Masahisa FukaseMack, 2017.

From the highest peak to the deepest valley, Fukase’s photographs take the viewer on a powerful roller coaster ride through a period of Fukase’s career that was turbulent in its own right: the first images of the series were taken in 1975, as his marriage to his wife, Yoko Wanibe, began to disintegrate. Inspired by a visit to his hometown on Hokkaido, Fukase began to chronicle his journey and continued to do so for nearly a decade as the personal and emotional chaos of divorce ensued.

Ravens By Masahisa FukaseMack, 2017.

For Fukase, the series began as a chronicle of his escape, both metaphorical and physical, and yet when he returned to Tokyo and prepared these images for exhibition, the theme of the raven became prominent. As he commented, in relation to one such image taken of crows flying overhead in Kanazawa: “I then had the idea that perhaps the ravens in the pitch-black night . . . could be captured using flash light.. . . The results were splendid.” Accordingly, the raven can be seen as having dual meaning in this series: on one hand, the symbolism of the bird as an isolated, even foreboding, presence alludes to the deeply introspective state that Fukase was experiencing at this point in his career. On the other, one can also see that Fukase’s desire to play with the balance of light and shadow within his images still reigns supreme. This play of contrast runs through Fukase’s other images, from the intimate portrait of a reclining female nude to a sweeping landscape view, and it speaks to Fukase’s fascination with the lingering legacy of the Provoke generation of Japanese photographers and their adherence to the are-bure-boke aesthetic in their images.

Ravens By Masahisa FukaseMack, 2017.

As one engages with Fukase’s Ravens, one must ask what form of isolation is truly being explored. As Hasegawa surmises later in his essay, “If there is one underlying theme in Fukase’s work, it is a sense of incompatibility with everything.” He goes on to suggest that Fukase was in a consistent state of disharmony with the work, and yet it would seem that the photographs of Ravens contradict such a relationship. Fukase perhaps felt a sense of detachment or disconnection as he took these images, but the frames themselves imply his deep connection with the natural world. The balance he strikes between his subjects and the striking vantage points he incorporates into his compositions results in a panoply of images that suggest a man seeking a new connection with the world rather than one accepting his perpetual incompatibility with it, a state of limbo never to be escaped.

Ravens By Masahisa FukaseMack, 2017.

Fukase’s career would unfortunately enter into such an oblivion only a few years after Ravens ’ publication: a fall down a flight of stairs in 1992 left Fukase struggling with a serious brain injury. He continued to take photographs, and he also experimented with drawing over some of his images, but the power of his work never quite surpassed Ravens . As a landmark in the Japanese photo book tradition, Ravens is an essential text for those who study or enjoy the field, and the MACK reprint of Ravens is sure to boost international access to the book’s brilliance.

Ravens By Masahisa FukaseMack, 2017.

First published in 1986, Ravens has since been lauded as a landmark, not only of Fukase’s career but also for the field of the Japanese photobook. So celebrated was its initial imprint that a second edition was issued in 1991 under the alternate title The Solitude of Ravens. Just this year, the London-based publisher MACK has issued a new, clothbound third edition of the text, restoring its original title to complement its 80 original images spread over 136 pages. Included are the essays by Hasegawa, and Tomo Kusaga, Masahisa Fukase Archives founder, both of which add a particular richness to the powerful series, now more than thirty years old. — A/fixed

Purchase Book

A/FIXED Through original interviews, essays, and book reviews, A/fixed seeks to connect western audiences with the rich photographic history of Japan. The first issue of this biannual newsprint journal, entitled Provoke Generation: Japanese Photography 60-70s, centers on the key figures in the field during a turbulent moment in history, as young, rebellious artists broke with traditions, upended the status quo, and took Japanese photography in a bold new direction. The inaugural issue of A/fixed journal is available on their website.




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