It was in 1977 that Japanese photographer Masahisa Fukase turned his lens toward his beloved cat, Sasuke. Cats had been a constant feature in his life but Sasuke was the first he photographed. Now a new book celebrates some of those tender and joyful portraits of his favourite feline companion.
Simply titled Masahisa Fukase: Sasuke, the charming images are arranged into four chapters, organised around the chronology of the Japanese photographer's life with his cats. The book's foreword reveals how Fukase enjoyed raising quite a few: Tama was the tortoiseshell he grew up with; Kuro, a black cat of his student years; Hebo was a black Persian cat while Kabo, a Siamese, and Gure, a Russian Blue-style alley cat. But his favourite cat was Sasuke, as it was the one he photographed first and the most.
Interestingly, just 10 days after his arrival, Sasuke ran away. In the book's foreword, Tomo Kosuga writes: "Fukase immediately plastered the neighbourhood with small 'Lost Cat' posters. Two weeks later, a woman telephoned him saying she had found a kitten in a car park in Harajuku that matched the one on his small poster. She kindly offered to bring it round to Fukase's home."
But according to Fukase, it wasn't actually Sasuke. "When I first set eyes on this cat that was not mine, I was disappointed," Fukase said, "but as I'm a real cat lover and can't resist them, I soon thought: 'Come on, let's pretend that it's him,’ and that's how I came to adopt Sasuke Two."
Fukase apparently took the kitten with him everywhere, to "get it used to the outside world," as Tomo Kosuga explains. "When summer came, he left Tokyo for the depths of the countryside, together with this new Sasuke. He never seemed to tire of photographing it running around outdoors, frolicking with insects and frogs."
As Fukase recalled: "That year, I spent much of my time crawling around on my stomach in order to take photographs at the cat's eye level, and this sort of made me into a cat. It was the happiest of tasks: taking photos, while playing with something who pleased me, in harmony with the changing seasons."
A year later, he acquired a second cat, named Momoe. "I didn't want to photograph the most beautiful cats in the world but rather capture their charm in my lens while reflecting me in their pupils," he wrote of these images. "You could rightly say that this collection is actually a 'self-portrait' for which I took the form of Sasuke and Momoe."
Born in 1934 on the island of Hokkaido, in the north of Japan, into a family of studio photographers, Masahisa Fukase was meant to take over the family business, but instead, he launched a career as a freelance reporter in the late 1960s. In 1971 he published his first photography book, dedicated to his family. In 1974, he cofounded the Workshop Photography School with Shomei Tomatsu, Eikoh Hosoe, Noriaki Yokosuka, Nobuyoshi Araki and Daido Moriyama. That same year, MoMA dedicated a milestone exhibition New Japanese Photography to their work; but it was the 1986 book The Solitude of Ravens that was to make Fukase a revered photographer worldwide. After a fall in 1992, Fukase went into a coma at the age of 58 and was kept on life support until his death in 2012.
Published by Atelier EXB, Masahisa Fukase: Sasuke is a love letter to the photographer's feline companions. Available to purchase here.