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The Art of Losing Love, pt.1 : Words on Masahisa Fukase

It must be difficult to live with a photographer.

First, you must think you’re eternally being spied upon, trying to be caught unawares, that an eye waiting to catch the true-true-you is always present, and always watching. it is only later that you realize that it isn’t your essence that the photographer is trying to capture and distill truth from, it’s theirs. That each image pointed at you is really just a sublimated view of themselves, and that what they project when they point and click in your general direction is really just a reflection back of self, sometimes twisted and sometimes upside-down.

So it’s a perverse kind of attention: they look at you to get a better look at themselves. Didn’t you know that an essential piece of the camera is the mirror installed inside the casing?

Are all photographs made by photographers of those they love just a kind of extended visual autobiography? How much does our conception of the world hinge on how we love? Does the dynamic of our chosen relationship(s) begin to define our aesthetic, at least in relation to how we visualize it? And how do we choose partners? Do we choose one that keeps us in check by having a world view that complements (does not mean that it is the same as ours) our own? Do we choose one that will tear ours down, or constantly challenge it? Or do we choose one that we can only grasp for a little while, knowing that love and life (and photography, too) are ephemeral and fleeting?

I’ve been thinking about photographers in love, and the photographs they make while in that state. and also its shadow-twin: same photographer, making something out of a place of loss from that love. What is it to make a memory out of loss? To distill the precise ache of mourning? In photographs that become about loss‚ did the losing already happen before the photo? Did it happen in the course of it? Is the photo then a document of loss? Are these then the most documentary of all documentary images?

Masahisa fukase’s best known work was made while reeling from loss of love. After thirteen years of marriage, his wife Yoko left him. while on a train returning to his hometown of Hokkaido, perhaps feeling unlucky and ominous, 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. His photographs capture them mid-flight; crouched in trees at dusk with glowing eyes; and singularly and spectacularly depressingly dead, in cold deep snow. In the forward to the book published of this work, Akira Hasegawa writes, “Masahisa Fukase’s work can be deemed to have reached its supreme height; it can also be said to have fallen to its greatest depth. The solitude revealed in this collection of images is sometimes so painful that we want to avert our eyes from it.”

I have posted a few images of this body of work in other posts, and there are others available in other places, but below are a few images taken of what was his primary subject before the ravens, what can be said led directly to his more famous work of ravens: pictures of his wife Yoko:

Sarobetsu, Hokkaido, 1971

New York, 1974

Mastsubara Apartment, 1968

The body of photographs I’ve seen of Yoko show a multiplicity of moods, filled with both surface and subverted meaning. there are playful, joyous photographs, such as the first one above; sardonic commentary concerning perception, as in the second (the photo shows Yoko dressed in formal kimono, kneeling beneath photographs of herself at the opening of John Szarkowski’s curated show at MOMA in 1974 of New Japanese Photography, totally and utterly ignored by the hoi polloi coming to mingle around images made of her by her husband, whom the show, in part, is celebrating); and still there are those posed, Mastubara Apartment, which for all its premeditation, probably says more about power and projection than even Fukase could have imagined when composing it.

Yoko has said of that time that it was punctuated by, “…suffocating dullness, interspersed by violent and near suicidal flashes of excitement.” In a move meant to author more control over her own life, she left him in 1976. Fukase spiraled into a profound depression, made the work with the ravens over a period of years, remarried, divorces, and then in the summer of 1992, when descending a staircase at a bar he frequented, he fell. The fall was severe and caused considerable brain damage, and Fukase lives the next and the rest of his continued days in an institution, where he has no sense of photography, photographic history, or his place in it. Yoko, now remarried, visits him twice a month. She has said, “with a camera in front of his eye, he could see, not without. He remains a part of my identity, that’s why I still visit him.”

When I read about Fukase’s fate last week I was stymied. Struck with the realization that a photographer with such clear, articulated and felt vision was prematurely taken, and that whatever else he might have had to say was taken away not only from himself but the rest of the world to experience through him; then the aftershock that it is not the finality of death that has taken that away, but the murkier waters of the mind which has receded his thoughts and inclinations from both himself and anyone else. Fukase has no clue who the Fukase was before that made those photographs, or why, or what can be gained in the making. He has no care that an entire lifetime happened before he is where he is now; and further, given how tortured he was over the loss of Yoko (even despite the remarriage he reportedly never stopped mourning her), the now obliviated mind might be a kind of gift, a reprieve from too much knowing, too much sight.

6 Comments

  1. burke wrote:

    stunning photos! I love reading your observations.

    Monday, September 27, 2004 at 9:56 pm | Permalink
  2. “the art of losing love, pt.1 : words on masahisa fukase”

    The other day, Stacy of the space in between wrote about the life and fate of Masahisa Fukase, and there

    Wednesday, September 29, 2004 at 12:58 pm | Permalink
  3. VV Veen wrote:

    dear punctum-person:

    I am intrigued by the connection between photography and the literary as it evolves in your posts. Exploring this connection seems to be your intention since you have borrowed Barthes’ word who emphasizes an intimate relationship with photographs. I like this… I think it’s… important. It’s important that images aren’t necessarily forever sitting in vacuums. Vacuums are sterile. Art is, however, in continually motion. Like the eye itself, certain smart art-historians would point out. What is the literary? What is it to mediate using the literary? Or to narrate? What is the space between photographs when connected by the dubious musings of connosieurship? What does it mean to be one’s own connsieur?

    It’s funny– I thought “the space in between” was referring to your site as a sort of think space. But maybe it’s something else, something more, too.

    Or maybe not. I’m not an art historian. Or a philosopher, but just a guest, a passing presence, one more musing connosieur… perhaps.

    I like this punctum-place! I will be back (with caperberries)

    Thursday, September 30, 2004 at 12:28 am | Permalink
  4. Long entries around the Web

    It’s been a while since I’ve been able to venture out to the galleries. Aiming to sneak away this weekend and see something. Perhaps that’s why I have been stuck on short little posts. Not the case elsewhere. Robert over…

    Thursday, October 7, 2004 at 9:19 am | Permalink
  5. thpook.com wrote:

    Site to watch, quite definitely.

    http://punctum.typepad.com/the_space_in_between/2004/09/it_must_be_diff.html

    Wednesday, March 23, 2005 at 1:04 pm | Permalink
  6. Andre wrote:

    Excellent notes, much appreciated these. Found them via the Utata Salon discussion on Flickr*.
    Andre

    PS. Typo, forward (in comment above, from the text) you really meant foreword.

    (*) http://www.utata.org/sundaysalon/masahisa-fukase/ but the discussion is there where you need to register to the Utata discussion group. Would be great to have your comments there since you’re mentioned. http://www.flickr.com/groups/utata/discuss/72157607415695453/

    Monday, December 24, 2012 at 4:53 am | Permalink

4 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. [...] (such as in the case of Francesca Woodman’s self-portraits, Masashisa Fukase’s photos of his first wife Yoko, or Elijah Gowin’s Hymnal of Dreams series), a viewer can attach themselves, and become [...]

  2. [...] **** Stacy Obon, from her blog. [...]

  3. [...] opdateret) blog, The Space In Between, har Stacy Oborn skrevet en meget fin artikel med titlen The Art of Losing Love, hvor hun gør sig overvejelser om, hvor svært det må være at leve sammen med en fotograf. [...]

  4. [...] From “the art of losing love, pt.1″ by Stacy Oborn masahisa fukase’s best known work was made while reeling from loss of love. after thirteen years of marriage, his wife yoko left him. while on a train returning to his hometown of hokkaido, perhaps feeling unlucky and ominous, 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. his photographs capture them midflight; crouched in trees at dusk with glowing eyes; and singularly and spectacularly depressingly dead, in cold deep snow. in the forward to the book published of this work, akira hasegawa writes, “masahisa fukase’s work can be deemed to have reached its supreme height; it can also be said to have fallen to its greatest depth. the solitude revealed in this collection of images is sometimes so painful that we want to avert our eyes from it.” [...]

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