2009: After more than 10 months of preparations, Anton Kusters starts a project and embarks on a journey that will result in a visually stunning and strikingly candid look into the inner workings of the Japan’s mafia, the Yakuza. He is the first outside photographer allowed to document the Yakuza and over course of two years he followed its members through the streets of Tokyo shedding light on their way of life.
I came across Anton’s work recently though twitter and instantly found it captivating. Anton was kind enough to do a short interview with me about his methods and experiences during the project which I hope will be be an inspiration and provide a glimpse into the method of his madness!
MC: How did you come up with the idea for the 893-Yakuza project?
AK: The simple curiosity of my brother Malik and I, when a guy wearing a tailored suit walks into a bar in Tokyo where we were having a drink. The bartender, a friend of ours, told us that this was a member of the Yakuza. We were both looking a for a project to do together (I am a photographer, he is a marketing expert), and then just knew that this had to be it. We had to at least try.
MC: Why choose the Yakuza as your subject matter?
AK: See question 1… plus the simple fact the my brother and I were curious as to how the Yakuza were really like… were they like in the movies? or different?
MC: Your photographs have an artistic and unique aesthetic to them, as well as AK: being shockingly revealing. Was your aim photojournalistic, purely artistic or some blend of both?
AK: Definitely a blend of both. If i were to characterize this project, I would say “conceptual documentary”. definitely NOT journalistic in intent, because I never did any research about the Yakuza, I went in with an open mind and told what I saw and felt in a personal way… It witnesses my view of what I felt and saw, but it does not claim to be the truth of any kind.
MC: Dealing with such a touchy subject, what did you find most difficult about the project?
AK: The most difficult was the subtle social interaction that I had to learn. It took my contact person 6 months to fully teach me how “to behave” in any situation. Knowing that their code of honor is very strict, I knew that I could not afford any mistakes there. The actual photographing went pretty well in comparison to that.
MC: Why did you decide to use a film camera rather than digital?
AK: I shot everything on digital, in the early stages a Nikon D3, then later swapped for a Leica M9. I also used little compacts, and even my iPhone.
MC: How has the success of the first edition and the public reception overall influenced you? Was it unexpected?
AK: To me personally the success was definitely unexpected, yet I am very happy that it happened… it gave me much more confidence in my beliefs, and allowed me to do a second edition of the book, and in this way I just might sell enough copies to be able to start my next project or to continue this project.
MC: What do you plan on doing next?
AK: For the Yakuza: my brother and I are now negotiating for the second phase, where we will try to make a documentary film about that family. In the meantime, I am also planning an exhibition on the same subject, and I am slowly starting some other projects as well, which are all long term projects, and in different stages of their respective research phase… Exciting…. and of course I will take everyone along on my journeys on my website….
Here’s some more of his work but to see more and to read his blog I highly recommend checking out Anton’s site at www.antonkusters.com