Sukita: Eternity (Hardcover – Illustrated 256 pages)
ACC Art Books – 1st edition
Published 22 Jun 2021
Notable Japanese photographer Masayoshi ‘Sukita’ has released for the first time (in collaboration with ACC Art Books) a mammoth, retrospective illustrated book. Loaded with distinctive photographs, ranging from his early work, music, film, fashion and travel. He was a trusted photographer of 40 years to David Bowie and Iggy Pop and produced some of their most iconic work.
It’s a classy, gold-lettered, black fabric-bound book, a photo of Bowie adorns the front cover, taken from the Heroes album photoshoot. It’s mighty heavy and huge. On the back cover is his favourite photo – his Mother. “I owe everything to my mother, and the first photo I ever took was of her, which I still think is the most beautiful photo I have ever taken.” Inside the cover, Sukita says this book sums up his work to date, he plans to return to continue his photo journey after the pandemic is over. One might say like Iggy, he has a lust for life and despite being 83 years old he is not hanging up his camera just yet.
The opening pages were written by Campbell Gunn giving us a history of Sukita’s life journey from his birth on May 5th 1938, through his experiences of becoming interested in photography in 1956 in High School; his Mother buying him his first camera – a Ricohflex. Becoming interested in western films, rock n roll and jazz. After graduating from his studies taking a job as a photographic assistant to an avant-garde photographer. He developed a firm grounding, which served to enable his artistic and creative ideas. He progressed to work for an advertising company and in his spare time, he photographed musicians. He moved very quickly working in fashion/cosmetics and capturing various social issues in Japan. In 1970 he moved to New York with his wife to look for work. He encountered Andy Warhol and the whole New York scene and photographed Jimi Hendrix on his final US tour. He began work on theatre and film, with Shuji Terayama, a prolific 60’s playwriter/poet.
Whilst on his travels to London in 1972 he met Chelita and Tony Secunda who were managing T Rex. Sukita did a four-hour photoshoot with Marc Bolan and Mickey Finn, which featured in Melody Maker in July 1972. He went to watch David Bowie and Lou Reed in concert and was captivated, (sadly he didn’t take his camera) it had a huge impact on him. He was fortunate in being allowed to set up a photoshoot the week after with Bowie, as there was a mutual adoration. The timing was perfect. It was to be the beginning of a 40-year working relationship. Sukita provided the Japanese influence, in which Bowie was enamoured. He photographed him in the remarkable Kansai Yamomoto ‘Ziggy’ and ‘Aladdin Sane’ costumes. In 1973 on his first Japanese tour, Sukita became his official tour photographer. This work with Bowie established him as the leading rock photographer in Japan.
“It’s very hard for me to accept that Sukita-san has been snapping away at me since 1972, but that really is the case. I suspect that it’s because whenever he’s asked me to do a session, I conjure up in my mind’s eye the sweet, creative and big-hearted man who has always made these potentially tedious affairs so relaxed and painless. May he click into eternity.” – David Bowie
In 1977 Iggy and Bowie visited Japan and Sukita arranged a photoshoot with both of them. One of Bowie’s photos became the cover of his upcoming album ‘Heroes’, also voted cover of the year by a Melody Maker poll. One of Sukita’s images appeared on Iggy’s Party album but he forgot to credit. Sukita’s reaction was “never mind, he’s a great guy“. He adores Iggy and has been friends since the day they met.
He went from strength to strength photographing punk, rock, Jazz and Japanese artists like Hotei (best known for his work on the Kill Bill soundtrack) and Yellow Magic Orchestra. He worked as a stills photographer/ cinematographer with Jim Jarmusch and other film directors.
One interestingly fact that over the years, he has swapped his photos with other respected photographers such as Terry O’ Neill, Linda McCartney and Ross Halfin, he now has a grand collection of rock photographs by others. He comes across as a very humble, gracious man, who has no ego, just a creative man full of passion for his art.
The initial images in the book begin with the chapter EARLY WORK, which encompasses a wide range of images, mostly black and white, from an atomic bomb survivor; fashion; music and of course his first photograph of his mother (photo to right).
T-REX – Marc Bolan at his finest, with 10 stunning images of him and Mickey Finn. Marc live, posing and backstage. Featuring the most iconic shot of Marc, hair blowing, guitar playing, lost in music – this really hits the spot, glam rock at its finest.
BOWIE – The biggest chapter with 39 images, stunning colour images of early Bowie in various lavish costumes, to the Heroes simple leather-jacketed head and shoulders portraits. A couple of live shots, Bowie at leisure, behind the scenes, relaxed and posed. It’s plain to see the kind of trusted relationship they shared together.
IGGY POP – Amazing images from 1977 – 2013. Yet another friendship forged over many years and continues to this day, such stunning photographs. Iggy (photo right, cover ‘The Idiot’) at his finest, shot by a master of his craft.
YMO – Yet another band to have a long standing relationship with Sukita were Yellow Magic Orchestra. He was assigned to produce a visual image for the band and thus these creative colourful photos emerged, plus stark black and white shots of the band and as individuals.
EAST – Brings studio portraits mainly from his own neighbourhood, with various creatives from Tokyo. Although one of my favourite shots which wasn’t shot in Tokyo is of Japanese actor Masatoshi Nagase at the Blue Lagoon in Iceland in 1993, quite possibly taken during the filming of ‘Cold Fever’.
WEST – When Punk emerged in London he photographed many of the early movers and shakers. I love the way he states that “I don’t like it when the photographer is superior to the subject“. He never uses his career to lord it over his lesser-known subjects. This chapter focuses on the many artists he has captured in the western world, which range from Punk artists such as Joe Strummer, John Lydon, Viv Westwood, through to The Pretenders, David Byrne, David Sylvian, Boy George, The B52’s and many more, taken in both the studio and live shows.
THEATRE AND CINEMA – Sukita has worked on many projects in theatre and film. Jim Jarmusch describes him as “..a true master of portrait and rock photography”. Here we see stills from the films and on set portraits. Photo right (Yuki Kudo + Masatoshi Nagase in the film ‘Mystery Train’) a stunning still taken in Memphis in 1989.
JOURNEYS – Sukita presents his personal travel photography, which he calls “snapshots” but these are considered and well-executed landscapes, people shots, buildings, from an experienced master, who uses light and shade immaculately. He takes his camera everywhere as he believes (as I do) that “each time you take a picture, a record and memory of your past piles up inside you..” In the final photo in the book, in 2018 he recreated his Mothers photo with his niece, in the same place wearing the exact clothes.
Finally, the book is completed with an essay by Yoshiro Fukukawa, from the Blitz Gallery, his hopes are that Sukita’s book will lead to a re-evaluation of his work in the Western world and that he gains the recognition that he truly deserves outside of Japan.
In concluding, it’s the remarkable Bowie’s photographs throughout the years that really grab my attention. However, it’s a real coffee table book, expensive and luxurious. It’s almost too precious to touch, it surely will become a collector’s item in the not too distant future. So grab it while you can.
The book can be purchased for £35 at Amazon here
Photos by Masayoshi Sukita courtesy of ACC Art Books
Words by Melanie Smith. More work by Mel on Louder Than War can be found at her author’s archive. You can find her on Facebook and Twitter. Melanie’s own photography work can be found here