Jun 21, 2010

A photographer’s solace (The Solitude of Ravens)

"Dark, grainy, under-exposed, blotchy, over magnified photos..."*

W H Chong — Culture Mulcher

W H Chong

Culture Mulcher

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


“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.”****



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.






* 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.



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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3 thoughts on “A photographer’s solace (The Solitude of Ravens)

  1. Tweets that mention A photographer’s solace (The Solitude of Ravens) – Culture Mulcher --

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Guilherme Brandão, Revista FHOX. Revista FHOX said: As belas e soturnas fotos de Masahisa Fukase […]

  2. W H Chong

    Dear jus, thank you, very kind of you to say so.

    I find photography a very complex area — and have a vexed and complicated response to it. I love it, I take snaps all the time and I couldn’t live or work without it. But when it enters the area of “art,” that impossible space, my head goes into a spin and I’m likely to contradict myself with every second remark. And no amoount of Sontag or Berger will help.

  3. jus

    Stirring. I love how in the backlit shot of the single raven, the eyes have disappeared but in the shot of the murder of ravens (a term I learnt in primary school has finally come in handy!), you can see dots of eyes glowing.

    I’m really enjoying your posts. The other recent photography one about Bill Henson and the photographic fascination with interstitial youth was great as well.


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