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Masahisa Fukase’s Bukubuku
© Masahisa Fukase Archives. Courtesy Michael Hoppen Gallery

Was this Japanese photographer the ultimate selfie master?

Half-submerged in his bathtub, Masahisa Fukase channelled heartbreak into this poignant series of self-portraits

On the surface, Masahisa Fukase's Bukubuku might feel like a humorous – albeit dark – take on the self portrait. Playing around in the bathtub, even the book’s title is an homage to the noise of blowing bubbles. However, delving deeper into his biography, the black and white images of the Japanese photographer, taken in 1991, alone and submerged in his bathtub are symbolic of the isolation and loneliness he felt at the time. Once a primary focus of his work, his marriage to second wife Yōko Wanibe – which he previously reflected on in his seminal work Karasu (translating to Ravens) – had broken down, his father had passed away and his business had failed.

A blend between performance and photography, 79 of the silver gelatin prints (roughly half) made by Fukase himself will be on show at the Michael Hoppen stand at Paris Photo 2015, on now until 16 November.

“Each individual project made by Fukase has a totally different matrix and subject. He did not use the same printing styles nor photography techniques for each project. This is most unusual and it is one of the elements that makes him so very special,” says Hoppen. Explaining his fascination with the work, which took him eight months to acquire, he explains, “I initially found myself being reminded how similar the Japanese and British sense of humour is (when viewing Bukubuku). The work seemed flippant and comical. But on closer inspection and after speaking to many close acquaintances of Fukase, I learnt that he saw this very much as a performance piece of work and this it was shaped by Fukase as an introspective and mournful soliloquy to his ex-wife Yoko, just after he learnt that she had gotten remarried.”

Taken over a two-month period with a Nikonos camera, Bukubuku was Fukase's last ever published photo book, with the prints never seen outside of Japan – instead, remaining secure in a box after they were first shown in Japan in 1992. Hoppen adds, “The work was made on a marvellous camera designed for underwater photography and had a flash incorporated into the camera. The flash, when used, utilises the wonderful refractive qualities that water has. It is quite brilliant in every sense.”

A master of the i-novel, Fukase’s own life was in constant crossover with his work, tracing a visual narrative that reveals his most private memories, moments and experiences. “He is the ultimate selfie photographer”, muses Hoppen on the legacy of the photographer, “His way was very complex, of course, as he used a 35mm camera and not an iPhone! I wonder what he would have thought with the current obsession.”

Paris Photo is on until 16 November, 2015