Masahisa Fukase 1934-2012

from the series, Images Alone, ©2012 Dave Ortiz

Yesterday I received an e-mail from a friend telling me that the legendary Japanese photographer Masahisa Fukase passed away. Just like with the passing away of Yasuhiro Ishimoto in February of this year I could find no mention of his passing anywhere other than the blog post my friend forwarded. This morning I found a notice in an online Japanese newspaper (via Wikipedia) and a posting on Harvey Benge’s blog.

I was first exposed to the work of Masahisa Fukase when I was a photo editor at Natural History magazine. I was researching images for an article on ravens and as usual wanted something more than the run of the mill stock photographs. A gallery owner brought over the book “The Solitude of Ravens” for me to look at and see if I wanted to use the images in the article. After contemplating the book for awhile I realized that the pictures were  not about Ravens but about something dark and sad within the photographer. In the end we did not use the photographs in the article for obvious reasons. But in the years following I became obsessed with getting a copy of the book and finally was able to buy a copy of the Rathole Gallery edition of the book for $125.00. It was the next best thing to the original version published in Japan as “Karasu”, which goes for over $3,000. The book and the images became favorites and I have gone back to that book and several others by Fukase-san over the years whenever a dark mood came over me.

Back in 2006 amidst middle age upheaval I found myself in Kyoto wandering about and taking pictures for 10 hours a day. Depressed and on the verge of leaving my family I saw Fukase’s Ravens everywhere. They were the epitome of dread and despair and so I could not help but to obsessively photograph them much the way I feel Fukase-san did back in the mid 1970’s. Although Masahisa Fukase was in a deep coma since 1992 I felt as if (at least) his spirit was with me as I trawled the streets of Kyoto. The result of all this picture taking and despair became my exhibition in 2008 at Soho Photo gallery, Images Alone.

Luckily for me things improved but alas not for Masahisa Fukase. He remained in his coma often being visited by his estranged wife Yoko (no not that one!) He finally succumbed on June 9, 2012. He was and is still a great influence on me and even though I never met the man I will miss him. His great masterpiece, Karasu, was named the best photobook published between 1986 and 2009 by a panel of experts convened by The British Journal of Photography in 2010. Quite fitting.

from the series, Images Alone, ©2012 Dave Ortiz


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