There are few people any photographer would rather capture than David Bowie. His otherworldly looks, daringly flamboyant style and open nature to all things creative made him a photographer’s dream. Masayoshi Sukita was able to realise that dream and it came about very much by happenstance.
Sukita started his career as a freelance photographer in Japan. After establishing an artistic back catalogue of unique images, he found himself increasingly drawn to the subcultures of the late 1960s and early 1970s.
In the early seventies, he found himself in London photographing T. Rex’s Mark Bolan. While relishing in the zeitgeist of London’s happening hip scene, following a photoshoot with T. Rex Sukita saw a poster of David Bowie from his cover for his third album. Sukita immediately bought tickets for a concert that weekend with Bowie as the headliner.
Sukita was dazzled by Bowie’s performance and, despite very limited English, he managed to arrange a photoshoot with the intergalactic rock star, and from that moment on, a 40-plus-year collaboration was born. Over the years, Sukita would snap Bowie in everything from peacocking fashion shoots to Berlin U-Bahn excursions and Iggy Pop’s birthday party.
“One of the reasons why I was so inspired by seeing David for the first time,” Sukita explained, “Was because he is not just a musician. He is also an artist and performer in the ‘underground’ area. The way he acted on stage, his physical movement and ‘expression corporelle’ were very different from other artists.”
This artistic kinship and desire to always seek out the cutting edge of culture led to a lifelong creative collaboration, but also a friendship. While the Heroes album sleeve might be a notable piece of cultural iconography that would define any photograph’s oeuvre, behind the success of such images is the profound sense of subject and snapper working off the same hymn sheet.
Perhaps the highest praise of all for this work comes from fellow photographer Guido Harari, who says: “Sukita has captured Bowie modulating and mutating, reconstructing and deconstructing. In his photos, you can even spot the real David Jones, under the heavy make-up, red hair, Kansai [Yamamoto]’s outrageous stage clothes and all.”
His unique style and ability to simultaneously unearth depth while preserving the drama of the surface were based heavily on his self-evident perceptiveness. When reflecting on his noteworthy work with Bowie and Iggy Pop in Berlin, he recalled: “I think they found something in each other that they didn’t have themselves,” Sukita reflects. “David found wildness in Iggy; Iggy found intelligence in David. It always seemed to me that this was the reason they worked very well with each other.”
In the latest deluxe editions of his life’s work, Sukita: Eternity, published by ACC Art Books, features Sukita’s greatest images, including early experimentation in his native Japan, fashion photography, musician and celebrity portraits and his lesser-known street and travel imagery. Forever on the cutting edge of culture, his work spans the counterculture wave of the US and UK rock scene, the anarchic London punk-rock era to the present vibrant resurgence of Japanese rock artists. The images are a rich evocation of cultural history, preserved through the eye of a man captured and created in equal measure forming a narrative storyboard via some of the music’s best-loved stars and the scenes they presided over.