In 1934, Masahisa Fukase was born on the island of Hokkaido, in the north of Japan, into a family of studio photographers. Needless to say, taking pictures was in his blood. He soon launched a career in the advertising field as a freelance reporter, initially working for magazines, before producing more personal projects. Notably known for his series “Karasu [Ravens]”, Fukase’s photography is often a form of self-projection into his subject. In 1977, with the arrival of his new kitten Sasuke (named after a legendary ninja), he turned his lens away from birds and towards cats. Having been surrounded by felines since childhood, they became the centrepiece of several books over the course of his lifetime.
For his latest, ultimate book published by Atelier EXB, Tomo Kosuga (Director of Fukase’s archive) immersed himself into his touching oeuvre to compile a selection of 123 black and white photographs, combining unseen and iconic images. Divided in four chapters, the book is entirely dedicated to Fukase’s faithful companions, which joined him everywhere he went, and organises a chronology of their shared experiences. From car rides to train journeys, from the zoo to the seaside, from busy city trips to quiet moments spent at home — all was captured, celebrated and culminated.
The depth of Fukase’s affection (who referred to himself as Sasuke’s “papa”) is visible in each endearing depiction. Sadly, Sasuke’s adventures did not last very long, however. Only ten days after he moved in with Fukase, into his Tokyo apartment, he vanished. “I put up about a hundred ‘Lost Cat’ posters around my neighbourhood, but he still did not come back”, Fukase said. With the disappearance of his animal friend, Fukase was living alone again, until a few weeks later, a stranger returned him a stray that “looked just like the cat on the poster.” He welcomed the cat (which he called ‘Sasuke Number Two’) with equal affection and a loving relationship soon followed. A year later, he took a second cat nicknamed Momoe, which also entered his picture frame.
The Japanese photographer would never get tired of documenting their playful, striking and joyous characters, and not a single motion was missed by his lens.
“I wonder if any other photographer in the world has photographed as many cat yawns as I have”, Fukase beamed. In a long-term, almost experimental form, he explored his fascination for these full of spirit creatures that seemed to offer him boundless fields of exploration. “That year I took a lot of pictures crawling on my stomach to be at eye level of a cat and, in a way, that made me a cat. It was a job full of joy, taking these photos playing with what I liked, in accordance with the changes of nature”, he continued.
In ‘Sasuke’ each image uncovers a new side of the cats’ miscellaneous personalities and their charming visage, leading to a collective, extraordinary body of work that demonstrates Fukase’s technical abilities and visual inventiveness.