“Dark, grainy, under-exposed, blotchy, over magnified photos…”*

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“The depth of solitude in Masahisa Fukase’s photographs makes me shudder.”**

The British Journal of Photography has chosen the best photobook of the past 25 years. It is an “obscure masterpiece” – Masahisa Fukase’s Karasu (Ravens, republished as The Solitude of Ravens),  from 1986.

He “made his pictures in bad light and bad weather, never bothering with technical niceties.”

He shot the pictures of ravens “out of train windows,” amassing the images over ten years.

“I did not care a bit about ravens. I assumed a defiant attitude that I myself was a raven.”***

“Fukase’s best-known work was made while reeling from loss of love.”****

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Fukase began his pursuit of the ravens just after Yoko, his wife of 13 years, left him. “While on a train returning to his hometown of Hokkaido, perhaps feeling unlucky and ominous,” she writes, “Fukase got off at stops and began to photograph something which in his culture and in others represents inauspicious feeling: ravens. He became obsessed with them, with their darkness and loneliness.”*****

“I work and photograph while hoping to stop everything,” he once said. “In that sense, my work may be some kind of revenge drama about living now.”

Yoko described their life together as moments of “suffocating dullness interspersed by violent and near suicidal flashes of excitement.”

In 1992, Fukase fell down a flight of stairs and into a coma, in which he remains. He was 58. His former wife continues to visit him in hospital twice a month.

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* The Monthly Photographer.

** Akira Hasegawa, from the foreword of Karasu.

*** Fukase, quoted in the Encyclopedia of 20th Century Photography, p.569.

**** Stacy Obon, from her blog.

***** Sean O’Hagan in the Guardian. Interested parties should read this.

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Fukase’s ravens seem like the opposite of flight – they have the gravity of malevolence. Perhaps ravens, or crows, have that harbinger anti-halo about them. More likely it is the gift of the bias in Fukase’s eye and hand, snapping and cropping tightly his dark subjects against the electrostatic grain of sky or the blank shock of snow.

And they remind me not so much of Hitchcock’s The Birds, but of Van Gogh’s near-last picture, Wheatfield with Crows, but without the consolation of colour:

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