The Solitude of Ravens (or, commonly, "Ravens")
1986 (first edition; various other editions in circulation)
Masahisa Fukase's "Ravens" is utterly chilling. It drips with affect, sorrow, and that un-dead un-presence that undergirds even the most mundane photography and that is palpable in the best photography.
Fukase shot like an obsessive, and he advised his students to do the same--I once heard him quoted as having said that the only difference between a great photographer and a merely mediocre one is that the former understands just how many (many, so many) useless images they'll have to shoot before they get a good one. It should be little surprise, then, that Fukase's "Ravens" is the result of perpetual, compulsive photographic capture of the birds that fascinated him.
His subject is not known for playing nice, obviously, and clearly Fukase has placed his emphasis on punctum over studium--shots are over- or under-exposed, film grain enhanced, enlargements pushed to the point of image degradation. But there's a poverty of means echoing the Zen aesthetics of Japan's history; the work is both hard to parse and deeply seductive. It's a paean to noise and flurry and absence.
A fitting gift for a grieving friend, or just someone you love a whole lot.
(For those interested but not ready to take the $500+ plunge, Fukase-san wrote an excellent piece about shooting "Ravens", and other things, for the Aperture publication "Setting Sun: Writings by Japanese Photographers", which gives a glimpse into his character, though obviously with less of the visceral punch of his photographic opus.)
In a real dark night of the soul it is always three o’clock in the morning
Toronto, Canada: Nothing Else Press, 2014
9 x 7 x 3 cm
Edition of 50 signed and numbered copies.
This work has been profiled on the blog elsewhere, but here’s what I especially love about it as a holiday gift:
1 - It requires upkeep and refuelling (with fresh potato corpses every once in a while), so it’s up front about its duality as a “Gift", which is to say as both a generous gesture and an obligation to future action on the part of the recipient.
2 - Given its temporal/consumptive nature, it can easily become a seasonal household tradition (“Hey, honey, it’s mid-December and you still haven’t put up the tree or gotten new potatoes for the Sasaki…”).
3 - It uses up said potatoes, leading to the corollary of the above (“Seriously, dear, it’s late-January and you still haven’t thrown out the tree or those dead potatoes…”).
4 - You can appease your inner dad by wrapping the potatoes in foil as stocking stuffers first... it helps if you’re prepared to make “lump of coal” jokes as your loved ones open said stockings.
5 - The mechanism spells out precisely what so many of us are thinking in the middle of familial obligations. Imagine how comforting it would be during Christmas dinner—while sandwiched between your overaffectionate Aunt Agnes and your uncle with the drinking problem, wondering how you’re going to gracefully get out of having to try the aspik salad—to just look over to the mantle and find some potato-powered sympathy in the form of a silent plea for “HELP.”
Lee Henderson is a contemporary artist in Toronto, Canada. Since completing his MFA in Intermedia (University of Regina, 2005), he has been furthering his time- and lens- based artistic practice while teaching conceptual photography and media art (currently at OCAD and Ryerson Universities in Toronto). Notable recent exhibitions and screening venues include The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the Magenta Festival Boston, The Zero Film Festival (USA); The Dunlop Art Gallery, Mendel Art Gallery, The Rooms Provincial Art Gallery, YYZ Artist-Run Centre, and gallerywest (Canada); Takt kunstprojektraum Berlin (Germany). He works in contemplation of mortality, between the persistence of collective histories and the brevity of individual lives.