Photo Book Review: Ravens by Masahisa Fukase

Called “one of the most important photobooks in the history of the medium,” Ravens, by Masahisa Fukase, was initially published in i966. With small editions, this book has long been in demand. Mack Books republished this work last year, in a lovely slipcased edition. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK)

As the publisher says:

Fukase’s haunting series of work was made between 1975 and 1986 in the aftermath of a divorce and was apparently triggered by a mournful train journey to his hometown. The coastal landscapes of Hokkaido serve as the backdrop for his profoundly dark and impressionistic photographs of ominous flocks of crows. The work has been interpreted as an ominous allegory for postwar Japan.

This book looks like a photo book made by Samuel Beckett; the stark black and white photos – mostly, but not only, of ravens – give a feeling of destitution. The ravens look as though they are arbiter’s of Fukase’s life, as he seems to be in a despair that may have no end. Some of the photos are blurry, grainy, enlarged from distant shots of birds flying or in trees, many shot at night in very low light. There is a simple beauty to these photos, and the ones of people – who seem alien in this winged world – seem to be existing in a post-apocalyptic landscape.

It is a stark book, but it’s also a beautiful series of photos. With some photographers, individual photos stand out and stand on their own; with this book, you can only really appreciate these photos in the context of these 80 pictures. Beautifully printed, this truly is an essential photo book. Get it before it’s out of print again.

Here are some sample pages from the publisher’s website:

Raven8

Raven9 1

Raven15

Raven11

(Amazon.com, Amazon UK)

Here’s a brief video about a recent exhibit of Fukase’s photos in Arles, France.

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