Unseen portraits of David Bowie by Masayoshi Sukita

Unseen portraits of David Bowie by Masayoshi Sukita

On view until 11 October, ‘Sukita: Rare and Unseen’ at Blitz Gallery, Tokyo reflects on the career of Japanese photographer Masayoshi Sukita, known for iconic portraits of rock music royalty, from David Bowie to Iggy Pop and Jimi Hendrix  

Photographer Masayoshi Sukita first met David Bowie in London, 1972. Drawn to the rapidly evolving countercultures in the West, Sukita travelled to London and New York to see what all the fuss was about. 

Sukita – who at this point had never heard Bowie’s music – stumbled upon a poster for one of the musician’s shows. Ziggy Stardust had just arrived on the scene, and Sukita felt an instant affinity with his subversive approach and cinematic influences.

Portrait of David Bowie in 1973 by Sukita Masayoshi wearing Kansai Yamamoto fashion costume
Portrait of David Bowie in 1973 by Sukita Masayoshi
Top: Untitled (wearing Kansai Yamamoto costume), RCA Studio, New York, 1973. Above: Untitled, RCA Studio, New York, 1973. © 2021 Masayoshi Sukita Courtesy of ACC Art Books

Though his English was limited, Sukita managed to secure a meeting with Bowie’s manager. He presented his portfolio, it went down well, and a session was arranged for the summer of 1972. Sukita went on to shoot the cover for his legendary Heroes album in 1977, and the pair began a 40-year collaboration and friendship until Bowie died in 2016. 

A new exhibition, ‘Sukita: Rare & Unseen’ looks back on the photographer’s remarkable career, one which saw him shoot the great and good of rock music royalty. In London, he captured Bowie, Iggy Pop and Marc Bolan (of T. Rex). In New York, he shot the likes of Jimi Hendrix – months before the musician’s death – and hung out in Andy Warhol’s Factory. 

Portrait of David Bowie by Sukita Masayoshi, Major Jack Celliers in Tokyo, Akasaka Prince Hotel, Tokyo, 1983
Portrait of David Bowie in New York, 1973 by Sukita Masayoshi
Top: Major Jack Celliers in Tokyo, Akasaka Prince Hotel, Tokyo, 1983. Above: Untitled, RCA Studio, New York, 1973. © 2021 Masayoshi Sukita. Courtesy of ACC Art Books

The exhibition features several unpublished works created during sessions between Sukita and Bowie, alongside new insight into iconic masterworks, which often saw him clad in iconic Kansai Yamamoto garments. Now, aged 83, Sukita remains active, capturing the present crop of emerging Japanese rock artists, and photographing the streets of his home prefecture of Kyushu. 

The show coincides with the international launch of the monograph, Sukita: Eternity, a full-scale retrospective of the photographer’s career which spanned documentary, fashion, advertising, film, and music, and produced some of the most striking images of pop music history. 

As Bowie once summed up the experience of working with Masayoshi Sukita: ‘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.’ §

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