In this series, Fukase photographed different places by turning the camera on himself, in a manner similar to what are now called selfies. The first exhibition of these images, which were shot during a trip in 1989 that took him to Paris, London, Brussels, Antwerp, Pompeii, and the Taj Mahal in India, was held at the Ginza Nikon Salon in November 1990; it was called Private Scenes. Fukase published a number of the images in the December 1990 issue of Nippon Camera under the title "Private Scenes Letters from Journeys."
"Last spring, on a whim, I began taking photos that included parts of my body within the frame, and I've spent all my time on this since then. It might be my hands, my feet, my face-snapshots of the city refashioned in my own way. I gave the series this name because everybody and everything I photograph is a projection of myself."
As suggested by the story's subtitle "Letters from Journeys," the photographs were taken during his journey abroad. Rather surprisingly, Fukase equipped his Nikon F3 with a 35mm lens. This no doubt partially explains why these self-portraits are taken at such close range that at times only his eye is visible, and why his face is blurred. Be that as it may, these images show an aging man on his own; they are not really what one calls souvenir photos. Indeed, they are rather mournful. Fukase, however, seemed particularly fond of this method of taking images.
He then changed settings and continued the series in Tokyo. The backdrops to the images were now more familiar. He also changed his Nikon F3 for a compact camera, a Konica Big Mini, and used the automatic date-stamp function. He spent a whole year photographing himself, from December 1990 to December 1991, and displayed the results in a second, bigger exhibition entitled Private Scenes '92. Visitors were met by the unsettling sight of over 450 overlapping prints arranged on the gallery's four black walls. None were framed, but rather hastily stuck up with drawing pins. The exhibition was divided into four parts: "Private Scenes," "Hibi" (Cracks), "Berobero" (Tongues), and "Bukubuku" (Bubbles). In the last three, which are presented in the following chapters, Fukase himself was once again the subject and a lengthy text, written like a diary, was inserted between the photographs in all four parts of the exhibition.
An extract: "November 29: I've now been using the Konica Big Mini for a year. My photographs have changed a lot. In order to include myself in these photos, I've been working without a viewfinder, as it was physically impossible to look into a viewfinder if I wanted to include my face, by extending my hand or holding the camera beside or in front of me. The viewfinder is a useless component for me. I've had an intuitive understanding of the field of vision for many years; my eyes have become a 35mm lens."
Put another way, he repeated the experience of Walking Eyes, except that now he was no longer looking through the viewfinder. He didn't need to, because his work had developed so that he was now part of the subject he was photographing. At the time of Walking Eyes, he noted: "I instantaneously pressed the shutter release whenever the tentacles of my gaze accidentally grasped hold of some thing." A metaphor like that already infers the presence of a "relationship of viewer and viewed." In an interview with the photographer Ishiuchi Miyako in 1991, Fukase referred back to this relationship that was central to Private Scenes. "There is no difference between the me who does the looking and the person who is being looked at. When I'm behind the viewfinder, I'm also always being looked at. This is the theme I'm working on at the moment [...] About the fact that the subject who looks is also the object looked at. I started to ask myself what I would look like if the looked-at me also became part of the photograph. At present, I'm interested in studying this not by taking the photograph from afar with a delayed shutter release, but close up."
Fukase realized that photographs of his surroundings also spoke of him, as the object looked at by the subject of his photograph. His reason for throwing himself into this series was to express this "relationship of viewer and viewed" in a concrete, direct fashion. And he found it surprisingly fascinating. "For the past four years, I have included myself in all my photographs, in an almost pathological manner, to the point of feeling as if I have eyes in the back of my head. I am obviously the subject, but the way in which I distance myself from the background is also interesting, so much so that I sometimes feel that the photos would be better without my face in them. It's true, I know, but I am unable to stop myself putting me in the photograph."
The person who, at the time of "Walking Eyes" wrote, "Recently, when taking photos [...] I don't feel particularly excited," was now referring to his "almost pathological" approach. If the thoughts and intentions Fukase expressed now make us shudder, it is because Private Scenes '92 would be his last exhibition. A terrible accident was about to bring his artistic activity to an abrupt end.
On June 20, 1992, three months after the end of the exhibition, Fukase fell down the stairs of a bar that he regularly frequented, blind drunk. His head hit the ground violently, causing brain damage. The contusions on his brain left him handicapped for life, unable to communicate with others in any way or do anything for himself. He spent the following 20 years bedridden, until in 2012, at the age of 78, he finally closed his eyes forever.
While we cannot know the exact truth about this accident, we do have a number of warning signs concerning his behaviour at that time. Firstly, he united four distinct series, which would become his last works, into that single exhibition, Private Scenes '92, composed entirely of self-portraits.
Furthermore, having rarely spoken in public until then, after 1990, his attitude changed completely, and he frequently talked about himself. He also began behaving eccentrically, for example, distributing his own death announcement to those close to him. The following sentences, taken from the text stuck on the walls of this final exhibition, reinforce the impression of imminent danger: "Ken Domōn once said that taking photos was his reason for existing, or rather proof of his existence. I would be embarrassed to say the same about my 'Private Scenes, 'Berobero' and 'Bukubuku, and it would be an exaggeration. In my case, it would suffice to exchange 'Private Scenes' for 'Death Sentence. I chose the title Shikei ["private scenes" in Japanese] for this series because it was the homonym of another shikei meaning 'death sentence? Where am I, who am I? These kinds of questions can be associated with the onset of senility; one might think that wanting to make people ill at ease by exhibiting my face with unpleasant expressions derives from a form of sadism, [...] but let us not forget that originally, sadism and masochism were two sides of the same coin, as were genius and madness. Madness also gives pleasure."
Having fired at those close to him in the name of photography, Fukase ended up turning the barrel of the gun on himself. Private Scenes '92 is the result: numerous self-portraits, or to put it another way, the "piles of tombstones that are my images" exhibited there right in front of our eyes. They represent, in their own way, the extravagant photographic funeral that Fukase organized for himself.
Text by Tomo Kosuga from the book MASAHISA FUKASE, 2018
Masahisa Fukase (Hokkaido, 1934 – 2012) is
considered one of the most radical and experimental photographers of the
post-war generation in Japan. He would become world-renowned for his
photographic series and subsequent publication Karasu (The
English title: Ravens, 1975 – 1985), which is widely
celebrated as a photographic masterpiece. And yet the larger part of his oeuvre
remained largely inaccessible for over two decades. In 1992 a tragic fall had
left the artist with permanent brain damage, and it was only after his death in
2012 that the archives were gradually disclosed. Since then a wealth of
material has surfaced that had never been shown before.
Fukase worked almost exclusively in series, some of
which came about over the course of several decades. The works combine to form
a remarkable visual biography of one of the most original photographers of his
time. Fukase incorporated his own life experiences of loss, love, loneliness
and depression into his work in a surprisingly playful manner. His images are
personal and highly intimate: over the years, his wife Yoko, his dying father
and his beloved cat Sasuke regularly featured in sometimes comical, at other
times sombre visual narratives. Towards the end of this working life, the
photographer increasingly turned the camera on himself. The vast number of
performative self-portraits (precursors to today’s ubiquitous selfie) testifies
to the singular, almost obsessive way that the artist related to his
surroundings – and to himself.
Though Fukase has become almost synonymous with his
atmospheric black-and-white Ravens, his buoyant abstractions in
color, giant Polaroids, and wildly painted selfies reveal the artist’s
inexhaustible resourcefulness and versatility. Work for Fukase rarely stopped
after taking a photograph, as is evidenced by the experimental ways in which
the artist presented his work – in print or as exhibitions – during his
Fukase was born in the town of Hokkaido, Japan, in
1934, the son of a successful local studio photographer. He graduated from
Nihon University College of Art’s Photography Department in 1956, and became a
freelance photographer in 1968 following brief stints at the Nippon Design
Center and Kawade Shobo Shinsha Publishers.
His work has been exhibited widely at institutions
such as MoMA, New York, the Oxford Museum of Modern Art, the Foundation Cartier
pour l’Art Contemporain, and the Victoria & Albert Museum. His work is held
in major collections including the Victoria & Albert Museum, the San
Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and
The Getty Museum. He is also the winner of prizes including the 2nd Ina Nobuo
Award, as well as the Special Award at the 8th Higashikawa Photography Awards.
Masahisa Fukase (Hokkaido, 1934 - 2012) es considerado uno
de los fotógrafos más radicales y experimentales de la generación de la
posguerra en Japón. Se haría mundialmente famoso por su serie fotográfica y su
posterior publicación Karasu (The English title: Ravens, 1975 - 1985), que es
ampliamente celebrada como una obra maestra de la fotografía. Sin embargo, la
mayor parte de su obra permaneció inaccesible durante más de dos décadas. En
1992, una trágica caída había dejado al artista con un daño cerebral
permanente, y sólo después de su muerte en 2012 los archivos fueron revelados
gradualmente. Desde entonces, ha surgido una gran cantidad de material que
nunca antes se había mostrado.
Fukase trabajó casi exclusivamente en series, algunas de las
cuales se produjeron a lo largo de varias décadas. Las obras se combinan para
formar una notable biografía visual de uno de los fotógrafos más originales de
su tiempo. Fukase incorporó a su trabajo sus propias experiencias vitales de
pérdida, amor, soledad y depresión de una manera sorprendentemente lúdica. Sus
imágenes son personales y muy íntimas: a lo largo de los años, su esposa Yoko,
su padre moribundo y su amado gato Sasuke aparecen regularmente en narraciones
visuales a veces cómicas y otras sombrías. Hacia el final de esta vida laboral,
el fotógrafo giró cada vez más la cámara hacia sí mismo. El gran número de
autorretratos performativos (precursores del omnipresente yo mismo de hoy en
día) atestigua la forma singular, casi obsesiva, en que el artista se relacionó
con su entorno -y consigo mismo.
Aunque Fukase se ha convertido casi en sinónimo de sus
atmosféricos Cuervos en blanco y negro, sus boyantes abstracciones en color,
las Polaroids gigantes y los autoretratos salvajemente pintados revelan la
inagotable inventiva y versatilidad del artista. El trabajo para Fukase
raramente se detuvo después de tomar una fotografía, como se evidencia en las
formas experimentales en las que el artista presentó su trabajo - en impresión
o como exposiciones - durante su vida.
Fukase nació en la ciudad de Hokkaido, Japón, en 1934, hijo
de un exitoso fotógrafo de estudio local. Se graduó en el Departamento de
Fotografía de la Escuela de Arte de la Universidad de Nihon en 1956, y se
convirtió en fotógrafo independiente en 1968 tras breves periodos en el Nippon
Design Center y en la editorial Kawade Shobo Shinsha.
Su trabajo ha sido expuesto ampliamente en instituciones
como el MoMA de Nueva York, el Museo de Arte Moderno de Oxford, la Fundación
Cartier para el Arte Contemporáneo y el Museo Victoria & Albert. Su obra se
encuentra en importantes colecciones como el Museo de Victoria & Albert, el
Museo de Arte Moderno de San Francisco, el Museo Metropolitano de Arte de Nueva
York y el Museo Getty. También es el ganador de premios como el 2º Premio Ina
Nobuo, así como el Premio Especial en los 8º Premios de Fotografía Higashikawa.