Wednesday, 9 October 2013

The Solitude of Ravens - Masahisa Fukase

The Solitude of Ravens is an amazing photo-book. I've written a brief description of my impression as the sequence unfolds:

Dark black birds, shadows, glimpses of human shapes in the dark. There is a brooding intensity to the images. The narrative is hard to unpick. As I thumbed through the sequence I had an impression of swirling flocks as they took flight to move across the sky before coming to rest again. The monotone images, often out of focus, show avian shapes, parts of legs, wings. As the birds fly there are other images - of people moving away through the dark, leaving their warm homes, some gathering to huddle at bus stops, almost like the birds as they scatter and settle for a moment in the tree tops. Together but alone. I see images of winter. A single window lit up but oppressed by the dark. Snow covered fields. Out of the mist a small boat is moving towards the viewer and the images change. They become sharper - showing us a town by the sea or a port. The birds flock and gather leaving a mass of footprints in the snow - a solitary bird lies dead in a drift. In another image a cat snacks on remains.

Curiously the sequence changes at this point. We see a naked woman lying on a bed. She poses for the camera but her eyes are closed. Her identity a mystery. An image of a blubbery looking fish, its dead  body swollen and gross. Back to the birds flying over the town by day. Factory chimneys pump smoke into the air as the birds swoop and flock. The town by the sea looks bleak and cold. The day is closing as the people return from work and school - back the way they came. We see images of water. A distant ship. A girl passenger on a boat - her hair caught in the wind.

A close-up of a large jet overhead its under body in dark silhouette. The shadows of ravens on the road as they fly low to the ground over the town. An explosion of debris as some sort of mechanical grabber pulls up bits of paper and earth and vegetation. A man sitting in the middle of a road bare foot and drinking. He's surrounded by rubbish strewn as far as the eye can see. A close-up. burning gloves in a bonfire the flames consuming them. A tramp walks away from the camera his body huddled in a large blanket.

I see two themes here. A personal one that relates to the solitariness of the birds and likewise humans that sometimes, for whatever reason, come unstuck from society - their flocks. These images feel bleak to me. The photographer is well known for missing his wife who divorced him. Apparently he became obsessed with the birds and took the images on many trips back to his home town. I get a strong sense of a man that is or has become separate from society and maybe overcome with depression or despair. He is saying, 'you too, could lose your way, your place. It can happen to anyone. Just like a bird that lies dead in the snow. The birds still gather to flock. They continue. In the end, we are all strangers.'

The second theme comes at the end of the sequence. Surely the plane overhead, the bird shadows in formation as they fly low to the ground, the explosion, burning gloves and aftermath relates to the atomic bombs that were dropped during World War 2. This is a wider theme looking at the populace as a whole - something that must have deeply affected a whole generation and their children.

This is a dark and brooding and above all very intriguing book.

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