Masahisa Fukase - Photographs London Wednesday, May 18, 2016 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Zeit-Foto Salon, Tokyo
    Private Collection, Tokyo

  • Exhibited

    Black Sun: The Eyes of Four, Museum of Modern Art, Oxford, 8 December 1985 – 9 February 1986; Serpentine Gallery, London, 17 May – 15 June 1986; Philadelphia Museum of Art, 9 August – 26 October 1986; University of Iowa Museum of Art, Iowa City, 28 March – 17 May 1987, San Diego Museum of Art, 12 September – 8 November 1987, and Baltimore Museum of Art, 9 August – 2 October 1988, for another print
    Ravens, Zeit-Foto Salon,Tokyo, 2 – 21 February 1987, for the present lot

  • Literature

    M. Fukase, S. Yamagishi, ed., 洋子 Yohko, Asahi Sonorama, 1978, n.p.
    M. Holborn, Black Sun: The Eyes of Four, Aperture, 1986, p. 49
    M. Fukase, A. Hasegawa, ed., 鴉 Ravens, Sokyu-sha, 1986, cover (blind-stamped) and p. 3
    M. Fukase, A. Hasegawa, ed., The solitude of Ravens, Bedford Arts, 1991, p. 3
    Fukase Masahisa: Nihon no shashinka 34 [Japanese Photographers, Vol. 34], Iwanami-shoten, 1998, pl. 23
    I. Vartanian, ed., Setting Sun: Writings by Japanese Photographers, Aperture, 2006, p. 189

  • Catalogue Essay

    ‘The Ravens themselves weren’t really the point. I myself had become a raven.’
    Masahisa Fukase

    In the summer of 1976, Masahisa Fukase travelled from Tokyo to his hometown in Hokkaido and began to photograph ravens, an ill omen in Japan. This escape home was precipitated by his divorce from Yoko Wanibe, his muse and wife of 12 tumultuous years. Fukase’s gravitation towards ravens during this period mirrored his own solitude and misfortune. The images of ravens captured by Fukase express the emotions he felt as his personal life collapsed. The present photograph, which can be read as a self-portrait, was taken at Cape Erimo in Hokkaido during this journey that would launch his epic Ravens series.

    Fukase’s 烏 Crows exhibition, the first presentation of his ravens images, opened later that year in October at Nikon Salon in Ginza and then travelled to Nikon Salon in Shinjuku and Osaka. Highly praised in Japan, the exhibition won Fukase the second annual Ina Nobuo Award. Installation shots from the time attest that the image offered here was exhibited only at Ginza Nikon Salon and it is likely that this exhibited print has not survived. Also in the autumn of 1976, Fukase’s ravens images were published for the first time when they appeared in the monthly magazine Camera Mainichi. Two years later, the influential photobook 洋子 Yohko was produced, publishing the present image for the very first time. In this revealing book, the story of Fukase and Yoko’s life together is punctuated by ominous images of ravens. It is unknown whether the actual print of the present image made for 洋子 Yohko has survived.

    After the 1976 Nikon Salon exhibition and the 1978 publication of 洋子 Yohko, the next opportunity for Fukase to present the image of the lone raven in prole came nearly a decade later for the travelling group exhibition Black Sun: The Eyes of Four, which showcased the work of four masters of Japanese post-war photography: Masahisa Fukase, Eikoh Hosoe, Daido Moriyama and Shomei Tomatsu. Opening at the Museum of Modern Art, Oxford in 1985, Black Sun subsequently travelled to four more venues and ended at Baltimore Museum of Art in 1988. For this exhibition, Fukase showed 21 works and made two print sizes: an oversized sheet size of approximately 111.8 x 157.5 cm (44 x 62 in.) and a smaller sheet size of approximately 36.8 x 49.5 cm (14 ½ x 19 ½ in.), which is the same sheet size as the present lot. In 1990, following the completion of the exhibition tour, the Philadelphia Museum of Art acquired all 21 of Fukase’s photographs, including a similar-sized print of the present image. The accompanying book, published by Aperture in 1986, also includes the present image, however, the current location of the set of prints made for the publication is unknown.

    In December 1986, Fukase published his seminal photobook 鴉 Ravens, cementing this powerfully evocative image of a lone raven in profile, which is blind-stamped on the cover and is the first image reproduced, as an icon of Japanese post-war photography. A set of small prints used for this photobook, including a print of this image, are held privately. The culmination of a six-year obsession with ravens, beginning in 1976 and ending in 1982, 鴉 Ravens was selected as the best photobook published between 1986 and 2009 by the British Journal of Photography.

    To commemorate the launch of 鴉 Ravens, Fukase held a solo show at Zeit-Foto Salon in Tokyo in February 1987. Included in this exhibition was the present lot, printed in 1986 as indicated by Fukase on the print verso. The accompanying Zeit-Foto Salon gallery label with credit, title, negative and print dates was affixed initially to the reverse of the frame used in the exhibition. The print offered here was acquired from this show and has been held privately in Japan for nearly 30 years. Appearing at auction for the very first time, the present photograph is the only known extant large-format exhibition print made by Fukase of this image available for sale.

    In the summer of 1992, only five and a half years after 鴉 Ravens was published, Fukase fell down a flight of stairs at his favourite bar in Shinjuku and suered a brain injury, abruptly ending the creative output of one of Japan’s greatest post-war photographers. Without ever making a recovery, Fukase passed away 20 years later in 2012. While little is known of Fukase’s life after his incapacitating fall, we know his former muse Yoko visited him regularly and in 2008, Rat Hole Gallery in Tokyo held 鴉 The Solitude of Ravens, an exhibition of modern prints printed by Fukase’s former assistant Masato Seto, who was responsible for printing all of Fukase’s post-1992 prints. Fukase attended the opening of the show, the first presentation of Ravens since 1987, and those present at the event recall Fukase emanating a feeling of joy as he looked at his work. Both Masahisa Fukase the photographer and his masterpiece Ravens subsequently have attained mythic status, continuing to haunt those who dare to peer into the depth of his solitude.

    Fukase’s works have been exhibited internationally, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the International Center of Photography, New York; the Philadelphia Museum of Art; the Victoria and Albert
    Museum, London; Tate Modern, London; and the Serpentine Gallery, London. His works are held in such prominent institutions as the Victoria and Albert Museum, London; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; the Philadelphia Museum of Art; and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, which holds an oversized print of the present image, likely to have been printed by master printer Toshio Saito, who collaborated with Fukase on his oversized prints.

    Phillips Photographs extend our sincere thanks to Tomo Kosuga of the Masahisa Fukase Archives for his expertise and advice and to the Philadelphia Museum of Art for their assistance in our research.



襟裳岬 [Erimo Misaki] Cape Erimo from 鴉 [Karasu] Ravens

Gelatin silver print, printed 1986.
Image: 28.2 x 42.2 cm (11 1/8 x 16 5/8 in.)
Sheet: 36.5 x 49.1 cm (14 3/8 x 19 3/8 in.)

Signed in rōmaji in ink in the margin; annotated ‘Hokkaido Erimo Misaki’ in Japanese and dated ‘76’ and ‘86’ in pencil on the verso. Accompanied by Zeit-Foto Salon gallery label.

This work is one of only two known extant large-format exhibition prints made by Fukase of his most-iconic Ravens image; the other print, held at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, is signed in pencil on the verso and similar in print date and size. As of this writing, a total of only five self-made prints of this image are known to exist. Aside from the two exhibition prints, the print dates of the other three works, which are smaller in size and held privately, are unknown.

£15,000 - 25,000 

Sold for £93,750

Contact Specialist
Genevieve Janvrin
Head of Photographs, Europe
+44 20 7318 4092


London Auction 19 May 2016