Back in 2010 BJP asked a panel of experts, including photographer Chis Killip and the writer Gerry Badger, to select the best photobook of the past 25 years. Nan Goldin’s celebrated Ballad of Sexual Dependency (1986) came a close second to another, then little-known publication – Ravens, aka The Solitude of Ravens, or “Karusu”, by Japanese photographer Masahisa Fukase, also published in 1986.
Shot between 1975-1982, it’s a dark, impressionistic journey by a man left bereft by divorce, which has also been interpreted as an insight into the post-war Japanese psyche. Apparently inspired by a sombre train journey to Fukase’s hometown, Ravens starts at the site of the Hiroshima bomb and ends in Hokkaido, focusing in on – or not quite focusing on – the ominous birds, cats, girls, a solitary homeless man and, finally, his estranged wife, who had left him after 13 years of marriage.
Born in 1934, Fukase graduated from the Nihon University College of Art’s Photography Department in 1956. After working at the Nippon Design Center and Kawade Shobo Shinsha Publishers, he went freelance as a photographer and published several books, including the highly acclaimed Yugi (1971), and Yoko (1978) – Yugi a representation of his first and second wives, Yukiyo Kawakami and Yōko Wanibe, and Yoko showing Yoko Wanibe alone. Ravens was shot after his divorce from Wanibe, and during the early stages of his marriage to Rika Mikanagi.
In 1992, Fukase fell down a set of stairs from his favourite bar in the Golden Gai area of Shinjuku, Tokyo, and suffered a traumatic brain injury from which he never recovered. He died in 2012.