Photographer Anton Kusters on the Two Years He Spent Documenting the Yakuza

Steward Magazine has published a fascinating interview with photographer Anton Kusters, who spent two years documenting a yakuza gang in Tokyo, capturing highly intimate glimpses into what life is like in the criminal underworld. When asked what he felt like when the project was just starting out, Kusters states,

I was extremely nervous. Since they are gangsters, I thought I should be very careful, in case I shot something I wasn’t supposed to see. But this actually upset the gang. They saw my nervousness as disrespectful. I remember one time early on this guy pulled me aside and said, “You are here to take pictures. Act like a professional.” It turned out they respected me if I was really aggressive about getting a certain shot. To not take photos was a sign of weakness.

As his surname suggests, Kusters is not from Japan (he’s from Belgium). It took 10 months of negotiations before he and his brother were given an unprecedented access into the closed world of Japanese organized crime.

Earlier this year, Kusters also gave a great 17-minute TED talk on his experiences:

You can learn more about the project and see more images over on Kusters’ website here and here.

YAKUZA (via MetaFilter)

  • Ha

    Japan looks beautiful. I’m curious about any shots that he took that weren’t kosher for public use.

  • Benicio Murray

    This guy and his brother are my heroes!

  • Jeremy Madore

    Who’s got big balls? That guy, and his bro. I seriously wouldn’t be able to hold the camera steady, let alone by around for that period of time…

  • Alan Dove

    Olympus should’ve sponsored this project.

  • Jake

    I’ll admit it, when I first saw the headline, I read the name to be Ashton Kutcher, and I just wasn’t sure what to think anymore.

  • Robby Cornish

    great concepts. a lot of horrible and blurry shots. and did he shot all the photos with instagram?!

  • Jake

    When I first saw this headline, I read the name as Ashton Kutcher, and I started to question everything I knew.

  • Michael Zhang

    Haha. “Wow, Nikon is taking its marketing in brave new directions!”

  • Michael Zhang
  • Jackson Cheese

    Me too!

  • TSY87

    I had to reread the title to be sure.

  • Haufmann56

    Some of the pictures are great, and it’s highly interesting to understand how and why he gained access.

    Unfortunately the speech answers none of these questions, instead it’s more like 15 minutes of nervous rambling. If you’re on TED — wouldn’t it make sense to at least rehearse your speech a bit? And not just blurt out random stuff?

    Second the images appear way, way overproduced to me. Some are nice and their color and overall style fits well with what most people would think yakuza pictures should look like, but personally I think a very clean look, sans all that instagram-like filtering and vignetting and softening and color correction would have been interesting.