Meet The Photographer Who's Captured David Bowie Over 40 Years

It’s 1972 in London, England. Masayoshi Sukita, a young Japanese photographer, is taking photos of one of glam rock’s quintessential bands, T-Rex. On the wall he sees a poster of the legendary David Bowie, who at the time is in full Ziggy Stardust mode – red hair, shaved eyebrows, and a general vibe that was out of this world. Sukita, captivated by the magnetism of the alien rock god, decides he has to meet him, and following Bowie’s concert, he does exactly that. “He was just amazingly cool,” Sukita tells me, referring to the first time he photographed the icon.

Flash forward to 1977, and the release of the acclaimed album Heroes. The cover, a haunting black and white portrait of David Bowie with one hand raised, one on his lapel, becomes an instant classic. The photo in question was, of course, taken by none other than Mr. Sukita, and while it might be arguably his most famous photo of the British lad, it’s far from the only one. In fact, it’s been 40 years since Sukita and Bowie first collaborated. Sukita was captivated by “his movements, [which] were very unique because he had trained with Lindsay Kemp, [and] his concepts of ‘Space Fantasy’ looked very new and interesting to me.”

Sukita and Bowie’s collaboration for Heroes has stood the test of time. All images courtesy of Morrison Hotel Gallery.

But long before Sukita met Ziggy, he was a young boy from Fukuoka living in postwar Japan. “My father had died in WWII, and my mother raised four of us, by herself,” the artist recalls. Although it was a difficult period, it’s also during this time that Sukita was introduced to photography. I ask him about the first photograph he ever took. “My mother,” he says. “In the poor period of the family, she bought me a cheap camera and I was so impressed I wanted my first picture taken on that camera to be of her. That photo I took of her back then is still very special to me and I believe it will always be the best photo I have ever taken.”

Three legends: Ziggy Stardust and Kansai Yamamoto photographed by Sukita.

Thus began a long and prolific career for the Tokyo-based photographer, which has included “portraits of musicians, a…series [called] ‘Gifts from the 20th Century,’ which were cars and vehicles of the world, and random snap shots from everywhere.” But it is perhaps his relationship with one of rock and roll’s starmen that has made Sukita’s photographs inescapable works of art, a collaboration that most recently culminated in the photographer’s first gallery show in the United States, in New York City’s Morrison Hotel Gallery. “I’m pleased…because I’ve wanted to do this for a long time, but also I think it’s just a first step. And I am very happy I was able to have my first U.S. show [there], which is all about rock and roll music photography.”

Bowie on a subway in Japan

The show was a look back at the four decade relationship between the two, with photos of Bowie in some of the different stages of his career like Ziggy Stardust, the Thin White Duke, and the Berlin Era. And even though Sukita’s lens elegantly captured the grandiosity of Bowie, it is perhaps his photos of the larger than life persona in low-key garb in Japan that makes their collaboration stand out from so many others. “He is very energetic and always has something strong in his mind, as a person and an artist,” Sukita says of his friend and muse. “I think that’s what makes all his work so appealing to the world.”

“He is very energetic and always has something strong in his mind, as a person and an artist. I think that’s what makes all his work so appealing to the world.”

Bowie in a striped jumpsuit for the Aladdin Sane tour.

I ask Sukita what his favorite David Bowie song is, and I’m delighted to find that he chooses one from Heroes. “I’m not very good at understanding English, so I’m drawn to the instrumental song ‘Moss Garden’ on the album. It stimulates my creativity. David must have been inspired by Moss Temple in Kyoto when he wrote that song.” And then, like a perfectly accidental metaphor for their relationship, Sukita says, “Eastern temple inspired Western artist – it’s a kind of cultural exchange. My life seems like this sometimes.”

All images are courtesy of Morrison Hotel Gallery.

Sukita and Bowie

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