Masahisa Fukase, Afterword

JTF (just the facts): Published by Roshin Books in 2016 (here). Hardcover, 104 pages, with 80 black and white photographs. Includes texts by Tomo Kosuga and the artist, included in a pink booklet. In an edition of 900 copies. (Cover and spread shots below.)

Comments/Context: Masahisa Fukase, considered by many to be one of the most influential figures in Japanese photography, is perhaps best known today for his iconic work Karasu (Ravens), first published as a photobook in 1986. The dark and grainy images of ravens captured in flight or resting on branches, both tangible and symbolic, transcended Fukase’s grief and sense of loss he felt after his break up with Yoko, his wife of twelve years and his longtime muse. Fukase used photography as a mirror – no matter who or what was in front of him, he always turned the camera to himself. In 1982, when he stopped working on his now famous project, Fukase wrote: “The ravens themselves weren’t really the point. I myself had become a raven”.

Masahisa Fukase was also known for his obsession with cats. “For as long as I can remember, I have never been without a cat. In a photograph taken of me when I was three years old, I am holding a calico named Tama”. He tirelessly photographed his cats, and his comments in the afterword to his book The Strawhat Cat, reveal his photographic vision. “I didn’t want to take photos of cats that looked beautiful or cute, but rather the affection you can see when I appear in their eyes. That’s why this collection could be described as a “self-portrait” that borrow the forms of Sasuke and Momoe”. His photographs of cats are deeply autobiographical, revealing a different side of his personality, and this is why his work featuring cats is particularly worth exploring.

In the late 1970s, Fukase released two books featuring his beloved cats: Sasuke, My Dear Cat and Strawhat Cat. In 1992, he suffered a traumatic brain injury (he fell down the stairs at the bar he frequented), and he died in 2012, after spending two decades in a coma. Atsushi Saito, the publisher of Roshin Books and a cat lover himself, collaborated with the Fukase Archives to publish a pair of books featuring Fukase’s photographs of cats. The first book Wonderful Days was released in 2015 and has been followed by the recently published Afterword.

The title of this photobook refers to the afterword Fukase wrote for his earlier book Sasuke, My Dear Cat. That essay described his close relationship with the cat, and his photographs of Sasuke as a kitten were used as text margins. The concept of this book brings to the forefront the work that used to be in the concluding section of the original volume. The first part here reproduces these photographs, while the second features previously unpublished work, with his essay “Sasuke Dairy” reprinted as a sugar pink booklet.

The book has a brown cover with delicate contours of the cat embossed on the front, and the end papers feature Fukase’s photo plates with detailed scribbles. The cover is super soft and it almost recreates the feeling of touching a cat, and the edges of the pages feel roughly shredded, like feline scratches. The first photo is a portrait of a kitten; when Fukase got him, he was so full of life and energy that he decided to name him Sasuke, after the ninja Sasuke Sarutobi. But Sasuke went missing not long after Fukase adopted him, and the next spread shows the poster glued to a stand which Fukase posted around his neighborhood. In a case of mistaken identity, a woman found a kitten and returned it to Fukase; but while it indeed looked like Sasuke, it wasn’t actually him. Yet Fukase adopted him anyway and named Sasuke Number Two. The second photo on the spread is a portrait of this Sasuke.

These photographs reveal Fukase’s affection for his cat as well as his incredible eye and sensibility as a photographer. Sasuke became Fukase’s constant companion – he took him everywhere. There are photographs of Sasuke in the back pocket of train seat, in the front seat of the car, playing in the garden, and at the beach. One photograph captures Sasuke at the zoo: his head is sticking out from a bag as he watches an elephant passing by in the distance. In a photograph from the beach, Sasuke appears in front, taking up most of the frame and looking like a giant cat compared to the tiny people further in the background. And at some point, Fukase got obsessed with Sasuke’s yawns. He spent a whole month waking him up with the camera. One of these photographs takes most of a spread, capturing Sasuke in a moment of a wide enjoyment.

The photographs of Sasuke in Afterword stand in stark contrast to the melancholic, dark, and intensely personal images found in Ravens. Through the carelessness and playfulness of Sasuke, and his moments of innocence and unassuming life, we encounter a very different self-portrait of Fukase himself. These photographs are full of optimism and energy, and perhaps this is how Fukase wanted to be remembered.

Collector’s POV: Masahisa Fukase is represented by the Masahisa Fukase Archives in Tokyo (here). While his iconic photobook Karasu (Ravens) regularly appears in auctions of rare books (fetching as much as $4000 a few years ago), his primary photographic work has little consistent secondary market history.

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