Photography The friendship between David Bowie and Masayoshi Sukita

The friendship between David Bowie and Masayoshi Sukita

Andrea Tuzio

Exactly 6 years ago, two days after turning 69, passed away “the greatest entertainer of the 20th century” according to BBC poll and certainly one of the most influential, David Bowie.

Trying to tell about The Thin White Duke could sound redundant and full of references that we all know well or badly. 
We at are a photography-focused magazine, among other things, so I chose to tell Bowie through his relationship with Japanese photographer Masayoshi Sukita and the wonderful shots that the two have accumulated over the course of this intense and prolific 40-year friendship.

They met for the first time in 1972 when Sukita arrived in London to shoot Marc Bolan and the T-Rex. While strolling around the city he was struck in an almost morbid way by the billboard of “The Man Who Sold the World” advertising a concert of his in those very days. Sukita had no idea who David Bowie was at the time: “At that time, there was very little information about David Bowie in Japan. And I had never even heard his name until I visited London. But the moment I saw him, I became extremely curious about him”.

The Japanese photographer then decided to go to that concert and once inside Sukita was entranced: “Seeing David Bowie on stage opened my eyes to his creative genius. I saw Bowie perform with Lou Reed and it was so powerful, Bowie was different from other rock and rollers, he had something special that I knew I had to photograph”.

Thanks to her friend and stylist Yasuko Takahashi – who was not only a true precursor of the stylist’s work in Japan but was also a fundamental element behind the first fashion shows in London of Kansai Yamamoto, the Japanese stylist we talked about here, who created many of the most famous costumes worn by David Bowie during the period in which Bowie himself played his alter ego Ziggy Stardust and during the Aladdin Sane tour – Sukita was able to meet Bowie.

Takahashi proposed the portfolio with Sukita’s work to Bowie’s manager at the time who, without hesitation, granted him the opportunity to do a shoot.

Although he did not speak English, Sukita immediately formed a strong friendship with Bowie and by 1973 he became an omnipresent figure during the White Duke’s trips to Japan. 
Probably the most famous photograph that Sukita took of Bowie is the one that became the cover of “Heros”. Taken during a shooting in a studio in Harajuku with Iggy Pop in 1977, the two alternated in front of the lens exchanging and trying on leather jackets, the photo came out on its own in a natural and instinctive way, the whole shooting lasted only two hours. Once Iggy Pop chose his favorites, Bowie, after several months from that shooting, in agreement with Sukita, chose the shot that ended up on one of the most beautiful albums ever.

The incredible archive Sakita put together over the 40 years of her friendship with Bowie is perhaps the most relevant of all.

A story of friendship, art and shared visions that, thanks to the curiosity of one and the willingness of the other, became a fundamental and iconic artistic legacy for all future generations of artists and photographers.

Written by Andrea Tuzio
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