anton kusters – as light shines on thy thigh



As Light Shines on thy Thigh by Anton Kusters


Kabukicho, Shinjuku, Tokyo –

Going deeper underground… Walking the streets with Soichiro and his family. Kabukicho is the red light, food & gambling district of Shinjuku, smack in the middle of Tokyo.

We gather at his office, where he shows me the work of Watanabe Katsumi, a japanese street photographer of this particular district who, for about 40 years, barely making a living, sold his street photographs back to his subjects. Amazing stuff.

I’m surprised that somehow he must have taken the time to research this book and lend it to me to look in. We talk about photography, the schedule that lies ahead of us, and the places he and his family are going to take us to. I am impressed what is in store for us. And excited.

Some of the other family members arrive at the office. Everyone is waiting outside, time to go.

I’m definitely aware of the weird mix of feelings while walking the streets at night with them, in ‘their’ burrough. A mix of respect, fear, clueless-ness, anger and admiration from the people, the hustlers, the shopkeepers, the prostitutes, the restaurants, the tourists, the club owners,…

It’s my first night out shooting. We’re on a so-called “go-around”, where the whole family gathers in fine suits to walk the streets collectively, greeting everyone, being greeted by everyone, in effect unmistakably showing everyone that they are, simply, ‘there’.

The message is crystal clear.

Two regular japanese guys walk up to me, smiling and gesturing friendly, apparently wanting to see my pictures.

I see Soichiro in the corner of my eye taking an immediate distance and signaling me, that this is in fact undercover police… The family disperses, like nothing ever happened… Just in time I have the presence of mind to start playing dumb and speak in a way too loud voice “tourist, tourist, picture”…. and I take off in another direction.

They don’t follow me. Close call.

And thus ends the first shoot.


Anton, april 2009

Anton Kusters


About the Essay

Soichiro is the lead character of the story that i’m starting to tell, about a Yakuza family in Japan. After more than 10 months of preparation, my brother and I have been granted access to start a long-term project to document the visible and hidden life of that particular family. All names used in the account above (and previous and future accounts) are fictional.

Here on BURN, i will regularly provide visual and textual accounts of our adventures.

I hope to be able to publish a book on this story.

Previous chapters:
Meet Soichiro


111 Responses to “anton kusters – as light shines on thy thigh”

  • Oh my god, Anton, I think I held my breath the whole time I read your account of a night out on the town with “the family.” You are on an adventure of a liftime my friend, but I just want you to put your safety first. No photo is worth putting your precious self at risk. That being said, this photo is marvelous! If this is any example of what you’re capturing with your camera, you are in the midst of creating a photo essay that will knock our socks off. Like WOW!!!

    take care

  • Anton-
    looking forward to how this will transpire.
    very fascinating and intriguing already…
    good luck and be safe!

  • Sounds like a great story in the making Anton… Stay safe there.

  • HOT! HOT! HOT!

  • Great, Anton, Great!!!

    Interesting shoot and story. I’ll wait impatiently to see more and more of the Soichiro series.

    Take care.


  • A perfect teaser for the upcoming essay…a peep into a secret world…!

  • Anton

    Super! My friend :)
    Excellent mood.
    I like it!

  • Very “anton” – lovely. Some time I’d love to know how you wandered into this. Take care of yourself.

  • Anton, i am confused..undercover police approached you, asked to see the pictures and then did not follow you after your “tourist routine” satisfied them that you were a clueless visitor. Then you say, “close call”..Why was this a close call? What were you doing that would be considered even vaguely illegal except perhaps guilt by association?

    I like the spot of light on her thigh and the sparkles in her black dress, like stars sprinkled across a moonlit sky. I think this photo will work well in the essay, possibly better than as a stand-alone where there’s very little context for the viewer to divine meaning and place.


  • hello Anton,

    Thank you for the sharing, it is really very enriching to see how your work is set up, on a subject so difficult to approach… I love the idea of”journal”(logbook?), that you write, on them and on you, how you feel the subject…. especially do not STOP it !!
    Are you going to mix the color and the black & white ? Or nothing is defines at the moment…

    Take care yourself, audrey

  • Why was this a close call?

    Kat, everything with police, anywhere, lasting a short time only is A close call… Reminds me of my little constable encounter last year at the Magnum Ball…. ;-)

    Anton, I thought you were back for some reason. Stay safe, yet… adventurous, curious about Katsumi’s pictures. 40 years at it, real body of work there.

    Maybe one day we will have KATfonsec’s body of work in Costa Rica…. :-)

  • Love the photograph, Anton; and the written description! Great colour; I notice that your first post here (Soichiro) was B&W and this is in colour: It’s early days but at least with digital you have the choice.

    Stay safe,


  • sexy photo anton – like it..

    glad you have an idea of where the project is going from here on in and i know you can keep up and snap at whats important to get the results..

    looking forward to meeting you in a matter of weeks.. of course it would be great if you wanted to chip down to the dalmation coast and visit us for a couple of days in june ? :ø)

    david, beate and topcat

  • hey audrey, mike R –

    i have not chosen colour or black & white yet, i’m just going with my feelings for the moment… i actually don’t feel like choosing yet. i guess when the images start to pile up, i will realize that i’m either in the b&w mindset or in the color one. Or a mixed mode like Panos :-)

    hey kat –

    what can i say… if i were the police and i saw you were hanging out with them as a photographer, i’d sure be very interested to see your images, hopefully to catch some visual evidence of ‘not so appropriate’ behaviour on their behalf…

    davidb – !

    dalmation coast? hmm sounds tempting. i might just be able to make it then… as long as it’s not during look3!!!
    but whatever happens, 2009 is the year that we WILL meet in person and get really really plastered while philosophising about life, photography, love, money and top cat tor capa :-P

    and then some.

    running now… will check back in an hour!

  • Hey World Traveler! :))

    what a gorgeous image to open my eyes too this summer….it’s both a dark and playfully poetic image. I too love the spot-light halo of light on the thigh (as if from a flashlight) and the star-scattered firmament of the black dress…..and here, movement, especially as this shift the lights into the richness of the Lynchian colors (Ode to Green), makes vivid sense…here, it is exactly that the movement and the truncation of the body suggests something is not quite right (stripper, bordello, Yak’s girl, etc)….and like d’agata’s entire Tokyo series, the color and shapes form beautiful abstractions that become just as (if not more) emotional and pictorial aspects…is that her left hand or a boot or a witch’s black face?….it is interesting too, as this image is visually, emotionally, photographically and aesthetically at the opposite end of the 1st picture you shared….this, much more about (for me) fear, exploration, discovery, uncertainty….a cat scattering after a tin can had been thrown….

    it looks much more like an Anton pic than Soichiro portrait, and that is, i hope, will be the wonderful surprise of the work for us and for you once accomplished: that it will surprise, as all deeply felt and deeply committed work does….we go into things with questions and leave not with answers but larger hunger-filled questions…:)))

    and thanks for the reference to Watanabe Katsumi….believe it or not, i hadn’t seen his name or work until this morning…and i thought i knew Japanese photography ;))))….that’s it, we continually learn :))))

    safe safe my friend…. i cant wait to see where this leads you :)))

    hypnotic and suggestive pic :)))


    p.s. got ur email….will write you later today….hectic life…thanks so much :))

  • anton

    will be staying in a beautiful and tiny (only a couple of hundred people) fishing village 2 mins from the sea.. near zadar, croatia from 7th june until 14th july.. 5 weeks.
    will be working diffrent places – serbia and other areas – so see what dates might work if you can.. there is a cracking festival in the village 9th to 12 of july you´re welcome to.
    otherwise london end of june :o)

  • Cool…. damn i’m in envy Anton.

  • Oh Anton
    interesting,impassioned,intriguing mood and great colors…I’m waiting to see the story.
    be safe ;-)

  • Herve and Anton..

    mmm..yes the police can be an obstacle when i am shooting but i wouldn´t say my encounters with them are close calls. My encoutners with career criminals, crack heads and run of the mill pick pockets are close calls. Which was why i was really asking. Anton is associating with street bosses and he calls his encounters with the police close calls. The alliances he´s making are most interesting. I consider his journey to the dark side even more fascinating perhaps than the photographs themselves though i eagerly await those as illustrations of his adventures. It´s an interesting dynamic, no? Nice photographer from good family dips toe in sordid underworld. I have to tell you, i get a serious chill up the back of my neck when i wonder what lies ahead for him. I assume that the family members watch each other´s backs. I wonder who is watching Anton´s? Yes, Anton, beware and be careful.

    Herve–i gave you a link once to my work. Any time you want to see more i have gigas and gigas and would love to share. That you don´t see my work on Burn is not for want of submitting it. That it does not appear here is itself enough to tell me i am better off spending my time working harder on the quality of my work than displaying it. Of course there´s always the thought that it´s the right Sunday wrong Church. But i will continue to submit to Burn and maybe one of these days something will click. Till then i happily persevere. Thanks for your continued interest.

    best to both


  • Anton, just for your resourcefulness and diplomatic skill in getting access to the japanese mob you would deserve all of our admiration. And the two images we’ve seen are pretty great too! Looking forward to more, and stay safe.

  • Definitely an ‘ooh la la” shot, lovely and evocative..

    I too am a bit confused by the writing about the close isn’t clear to me what you are after “He (Soichiro) says that the things we want to document, no outsider has ever been allowed to bear witness to.” Soichiro runs things, but is not police..? What Soichiro runs is illegal, and the undercover police are watching Soichiro’s activities?

  • erica, kat –

    I’m sorry i have to remain a bit vague… Tomorrow/soon i will post an addendum with a short synopsis of the essay, so that hopefully i can shed more clarity on what the story is about. The texts that i write (like above), are a personal account of what i feel, notice or experience during shoots. i’m glad that BURN gives me the chance to do this, as yes, they are important too. Eventually the text will be in line with the images and hopefully they will lift one another up…

    By “a close call” i meant that if the police had stopped me right there and then and seized my images, i would not only lose my images, but be compromised and not be able to shoot again. it was a close call for the project… for my images… not because it was the police… my hands were clenched around my camera…

  • Anton,

    As this essay evolves, developes I would love to be able see the style, color, and feel of this first image maintained throughout. Such a beautiful photograph, sexy indeed.

    Cheers, Jeremy

  • joe –

    to keep you ‘in envy’…. i hope i can keep on doing that one! that, for me, is a respectable goal in itself :-)

    davidb –

    will check my schedule tomorrow and find out where & when i can make it! needless to say, a lot depends on what goes down in… japan.

    jeremy –

    to be honest, i have no clue yet as to how it will evolve (visually, i mean). that is the great thing about it, i mean, “back in the days” how could one approach a project? just go for it, you have one or two trusted people you go to for advice, a certain film in a certain camera, and you’re locked and loaded.

    now i have the privilege of asking potentially thousands of people their opinions, their feelings, their thoughts, or their advice…. discuss my images, question my text, experiment, make me explain myself, help me grow or even be utterly dismissive… and all this can only make my essay-to-tell so much richer and potentially make me grow much more than i ever would have been able to.

    or to answer your question shortly: yes i like the colors and the mood in this image too :-)

  • bob –

    you noticed! yes even better would be to post these two pictures side by side… now that would be a clash :-o

    you’re right – they are really at opposite ends of the spectrum (as far as you can actually be at opposite ends inthis spectrum of course). but this is really ‘me’ in the beginning of a project, going crazy with all visual languages that i can get a hold of (you sould see my drawings and videos) until, somewhere along the project, i get ‘homed in’ or something (can’t explain it any other way) and only one language remains

    but i’m kinda guessing that this one, in a contest of two, would win hands down in the “feeling-fight” in my head – if there were such a thing happening at all – hmm, who said it was a contest of only two?

    oh, i said this myself just now…

    laughing…. :-D

  • I like a mixed mode (colour and black & white) as Panos too.

    Best, audrey

  • Anton….

    ooooooooooohhh, ok, so yes, the police could have been a real obstacle to your work. I often have more problems with the police trying to keep me safe than anything else..and yes, i have been in several situations when having my camera and my photos seized was a very real possibliity. But as you know, that´s when one´s wits are the best part of one´s kit.

    Thanks for clarifying and i really love the tempt-tease you give by uploading singles and a bit of your journal..i eagerly await the next chapter of Anton´s Antics in the Underworld :))


  • Hi anton,
    It is a difficult task to express the feeling after having a deep look at the shot. It is a bit off-track/modern representation of the street shot. The background and overall colour is soothing to the eyes. The uses of light and positioning of the girl as well as the brave crop gives a new dimension. A bit shake gives a nice sense of motion. Looking forward how the project …

  • Hi Anton,
    “We gather at his office, where he shows me the work of Watanabe Katsumi” what a coup to get the trust of these guys, good on you. This is a great project and very brave, I imagine a lot of rich material is to be had whilst walking bit of a tightrope.

    Good luck with it and I look forward to seeing further additions and how the story unfolds and is finally put together.

    Best of luck and break a leg.



  • Herve…. That you don´t see my work on Burn is not for want of submitting it…..

    Just a pun, “Kat”, nothing else… ;-)

  • Anton :))

    little brother, dont worry, i like BOTH images A LOT!…as i told you, i think the Portrait should be on the front cover of the book and the 1st picture in the book/essay…..and then the LAST photo in the book should be another Portrait, but from the FRONT…showing his face…ying-yang….and those 2 pics alone would convey the totality of this story….and now you owe me a editor/advisor/photo credit ;))))))))))…

    i mean, in this pic, i see the Anton i know as he begins an adventure :)))…

    ok, gotta run…got something to finish :)))


  • Anton,

    What an intriguing image… and made even more so by your narrative text. I’m really caught in the sense of motion and possibility. I guess you will take care to look after yourself – and I find I’m really interested in how your perception of risk will translate into the visual.


  • Man, am I the odd man out this time!… where to begin? I feel like if I say even a small part of what I am feeling about this photo and this project, then I will have irrevocably burned my last bridges at Burn, and earned the scorn, disapproval, and contempt of all the ‘regulars’ at least… Proving once and for all that I am 1) NOT a photographer and NEVER will be… and 2) that I am an old-fashioned, prissy puckerbutt trying to spoil the party. Or, as my long-deceased father used to characterize a certain liberal politician, “a Boy Scout in a whorehouse.”

    I have nothing against Anton’s photo, and certainly nothing against Anton. I find it a lot less titillating than some people apparently do… maybe because I have seen thousands (I’m not exaggerating) of similar over-dressed skinny young Japanese female thighs before, in all kinds of light and from all kinds of angles ((so, where are the pictures? the readership asks… proving once again that 1) I am NOT a photographer and 2) NEVER will be)).

    For those of you fearful for Anton’s physical safety (at least while shooting), you probably haven’t lived in Japan. He is a lot safer doing what he’s doing than any of you would be trying to cross the street in New York or London. Unless of course at some future point, after having acquired a body of work that might not suit his ingratiating hosts’ tastes, he publishes it against their wishes.

    What I am in despair about is that no one apparently besides me sees any hint of potential moral compromise in hanging out with yakuza, glorifying their activities, or just giving tacit approval by association with them. I realize journalists hang out with all kinds of unsavory characters to get stories, and all you eager edgy young photogs want to ‘push the envelope’ into darker and more titillating areas, I mean, DAH hung out with gangs in NYC, so it must be OK, right?

    Perhaps it is easier to romanticize gangsters if they are in an exotic culture where you don’t speak the language or have a vested interest in local public ethics and morality. I mean, they have these great tattoos, and engage in colorful arcane rituals. Some of the individuals may be personally very nice people. They preach loyalty and bravery. Their swagger has style.

    But these people make their living by extortion, blackmail, threats, violence, bullying… evicting poor innocent people from their homes for real estate scams… trafficking in sex slaves from China, the Philippines, and Thailand… selling illegal amphetamines… and bribing cops and politicians. They are vampires. And a lot of decent Japanese people are trying, with occasional success, to get them permanently ejected from their communities.

    Now maybe some will argue that that is all the more reason that they should be ‘documented’. Or that good reportage journalism doesn’t take sides or make moral judgments. Or that, like the poor, the gangsters will ‘always be with us’, that they are part of the social fabric. Or that none of that matters so long as the photos that emerge are sexy and show ‘authorship’.

    Photography is voyeurism. Yes, flash us a little more thigh… make the atmosphere a little darker… give us ‘meat’… titillate us with just a little more threat of danger, sex, and violence than we had before… leading to… what? Well, that is certainly one kind of art. Modern, urbane, and popular. Burners eat it up.

    I’m not suggesting there are any clear-cut or easy answers to the moral implications of what we choose to photograph or admire or be entertained by. Life is complicated, society is complicated, many consequences are unforeseen and unintended. But everything we do involves moral decisions, either conscious or unconscious ones. Having been a member of Japanese society for more than 20 years, I personally would find it morally indefensible to hang out with yakuza or contribute in any way to romanticizing them. For me, some things are more important than ‘getting the shot’, and that is why, ultimately I am 1) NOT a photographer, and 2) NEVER will be.

  • Sidney, this is exactly why I’m glad you’re here. Please don’t ever leave us. We need your voice, we need your perspective. You make us think. You make us question. You take us beyond the shot into the world that it reflects. I will now need to search my own mind and heart and ask myself more questions than I could have ever imagined. Thank you for taking me out of my comfort zone.


  • SIDNEY… sidney!

    very thought through… i am glad somebody has said it.
    i know that this picture is a teaser, though i do not find any amor in it or romance
    truly i thought the picture was an accident??? a capture and a press on the shutter and a nice surprise on the upload in the computer… I don’t exactly see stars or any mood
    i just know that anton is there where he is for whatever reason he cares to give

    i hope anton does not find himself in a spot where he has to respond to you or any of us regarding these thoughts you have brought up because i don’t think he is doing this to make public his own feelings and judgments about which side of the fence his mind wants to sit on, i hope for his own sake he does not make it known at least for now

    but as a viewer and reader of BURN and not a photographer like you, i do not chastise (for lack of terms) anyone based upon intentions behind the photographs because i never know what those are, though I did get mad(?!) at James Chance for his exposure on the corruption that’s going on in the Philippines – not like it is his fault, or didn’t see at all that Nachtwey condones murder in the streets, though I had nightmares of his pictures documenting it etc etc… there are too many things i have strongly reacted to that i have chosen not to say anything about publicly.

    one thing for sure is i do not envy anton or the spot he has placed himself in. it is a great responsibility to himself, his family, and his readership and i hope he lives up to the principles he’s chosen and i strongly hope too he will be able to live with himself afterward to whatever gains … or losses this project is going to unearth for him.

    and Mustafa…
    what does ‘straight dope’ mean?

  • Sidney,

    A bit surprised at your entry. Based upon what you are stating all we would have to look at when everyone’s morality was taken into consideration would be backyard shots of bumblebees, and then someone would find issue with disturbing the privacy of the bees. I found issue with some of the essays on prostitution but I found strength from looking and seeing that world through the photos presented (way back in the early day of this blog).

    Of course, the Japanese society as a whole has issues with the part the Y play in their lives. And you may call it glorifying them by showing their tattoos and their antics. But consider this. In DAH’s piece on rap it did not make me want to join them or make me like rap. (Although Kanye West has my attention.) Or feel that any one of the characters that ended up in trouble with the law because they committed a crime should be given leniency because I knew someone who took great photos of them and became friends with a good many of the people he shot.

    What that particular DAH piece did for me as Anton’s will hopefully also do, is give me insight. I am less ignorant about rap. I’m still right in my own mind of how I feel about the music and the degradation of women and men in the lyrics. But I know more.

    With Anton’s piece (which I hope we see soon), I will know more about a subject I have only had glimpses of and heard whispers about. As a person who has just recently embraced the art of tattooing I am intrigued by what influences this particular culture will show me with their chosen art. From talking with my inker I found out that there are very strict rules about tattooing in the Y.

    From your close proximity with the subject you have very strong feelings as you have expressed. I encourage you to really look at the subject matter when the final pieces are put up for us to review, and see what knowledge you gain that will help you in assisting your community to rid themselves of a the menace that the Y present to the Japanese society. Knowledge is power and the more you know about something and understand the workings of it the less power and hold it has over you.

    Anton, be careful and I am intrigued. In the shot you chose to present for this piece I have to say I was a bit disappointed. I want to see the subject matter. Although the women no doubt are a huge part in this society I want to see the main players. Good shot though.



  • lee,

    we posted at the same time… your thoughts are well taken too!
    though unfortunately, though knowledge is power, the decision remains in you the viewer…

    (as jim powers did say… (where the *&#$ is he?)
    even though how strong the photographer’s convictions,
    the viewer eventually has the choice to do something
    or sadly… turn the page

  • Sidney,

    extremely well put, and thanks for not mincing your words. The only thing I am not sure I agree with, is your assumption that the positive comments about Anton’s photo(s) and success in gaining access to the Yakuza also necessarily implied a condoning of the activities and character of these criminal leeches, which, as you say and I am sure most of us here already realized (Anton probably included), are indefensible. Of course this is a hugely complicated issue that none of us here will probably be able to resolve – philosophers have been trying to do so for ages unsuccessfully (the classic case of art vs., or despite, morality, is Leni Riefenstal’s films in praise of the Nazis). My take would be that, were someone to undertake a project like that with an agenda of admiring or glorifying criminals, I would find that abhorrent. If, however, the intention is just to show it as it is, I am not sure that that kind of engagement implies any kind of approval of their activities. Of course I realize as you point out that even hanging out with these people, eating and drinking with them, may be morally indefensible; but on the other hand, if we did not ever want to get our hands dirty, we would live in a world of hear nothing/see nothing/know nothing.

  • Dimitri, exactly so.


  • LEE and DIMITRI,

    You both raise questions that need considering, of course. I never meant to suggest it was a simple case… only that I was surprised and troubled that no one had even raised the issue. Nor did I mean to criticize Anton particularly… it just so happens that this is an issue on which I have very strong feelings, and possibly (?) more experience and information than many Burn readers. In these kinds of situations– reporting and documenting illegal, exploitive, or repugnant activities– I think a thoughtful photographer or reporter must be asking himself/herself questions every day about the nature of their personal involvement with certain people or groups, and the answers may be very tentative and mutable. There may be a lot of grey area… Anton may bring it off, or he may find himself feeling compromised at some point… and I don’t mean to impugn his motives. (Though I do have to wonder a bit why he found this topic attractive enough to fly halfway around the world for). I only meant that that is something to seriously ponder in a project such as this. I’m not foolish or naive enough to think we can live our lives by some kind of strict moral standard or never dirty our hands… everything we do also involves compromises. I certainly often found myself in somewhat compromising situations while living and working in Japan (incidentally, Lee, I no longer live there).
    By the way, Dimitri, I certainly wouldn’t want to ever compare Anton to Leni Riefenstahl… she may never have joined the Nazi Party, but by her own admission was Hitler’s friend, and if you read her autobiography or watch her films, she clearly had a fascist mindset.


    FIRST, let me say that I received the CD! :)))))…it’s sitting next to my computer and i am very excited :))…I literally have had no time yet to look at it, as the last 2 weeks have been intense (am working on 2 things for Burn at the moment, not my own work, and so havent had the inclination to look yet, to get distracted)…but, this weekend, it’s on my to-do list :))…and i’ll write you about that as soon as i catch my breath :))…but im really excited..

    SECONDLY, because you are bother or concerned or reject both the value of the photograph and the moral-orientation of the project itself, does NOT mean you will ‘burn’ your Burn bridge…good god, anyone that rejects a person for for expressing their ideas doesn’t belong anywhere, except that even rejecting someone is a form of articulation and should be supported ;)))…i may often ‘reject’ ideas by others (rather, disagree or hope to foment discussion/argument) as a form of discourse or conversation, but dissent is valued and dissent encourages discussion, which is the most critical part of our lives…so, please dont think that anyone will reject YOU (i fear sometimes that Jim took the ‘rejection’ of his ideas/comments as a personal rejection and left accordingly, which is a great shame), even if they reject your idea as articulated above…

    LASTLY (PROMISE), i completely DISAGREE. I say this to you as both a buddhist but also as an argument of ethics. OBSERVATION is not, fundamentally, AGREEMENT OR ACCEPTANCE. To oberserve, to report and to reflect upon life and the life of others is not only important (for each of us as sentient creatures) but as photographers it is our navigational point. It is NOT up to photographers (are at least all photographers) to define or categorize or pass judgement on the actions of others. Using your logic, we would have to dismiss, for example, Nachtwey’s photograph of the men slaughtering the young man in Malaysia. He did his best to try to plead for that young man’s life, but still took the photograph as he was summarily killed. HIs moral obligation was to show to the world what had happened, but he also tried to intervene. However, there are photographers whose moral act is NOT to intervene but to report, all manner of debasement and deleterious and ‘immoral’ behavior. For each individual, this act of witness, this act of ethic, is a peculiar and singular one.

    I too grow weary of stories of drugs, gangsters, prostitutes by young photographers, becasue for many the ‘lure’ is that it represents a life that they know little about or appears glamourous (darkly so). the same can be said for many who desire to become war photographers. The truth is that we must BE CAREFUL when defining another’s ethic and morality Sidney. In his role, Anton is not responsible for the moral judgment of these gangersters or their way of life. Now, has he, will he, romanticize them? Will he tell us a story that is universal and includes the fully complex world of this ‘family.’ god, i hope so and I trust him. However, it is not an act of ethical slacking to photograph criminals and not intervene. Even if he ‘romanticized’ this world, he wouldnt be guilty of immorality, just poor judgement, photographically speaking, or superficial understanding, on a human level.

    The MOMENT you begin to condemn another, based on a morality that is defined by your own societal or spiritual or society construct, is the moment it is important that you examine whether or not the logic of your own argument holds water. So, explain to me how the photographing of, let us say, businessmen who use child labor is moral (Hine anyone??) while the photographing of Yakutza is not. The fact is sidney that Morality is defined, a priori, by INTENTION. Intention determines the act. Yes, consequential behavior is a key and important ingredient in order to define and examine the principles by which a person lives, but the consequence is not about the ethic. Socrates questioned an unjust law: immoral? Socrates took his own life: immoral? both actions were condemned as immoral ones through a construct and arrangement of the soceity. Yakuza’s extortion of businesses, the employement and control of women through drugs and sex and money, their violent behavior toward those who infringe their turf is heinous behavior and should, rightly so be condemened. Photographing the people, reporting, exploring this world is another.

    PHotography IS NOT VOYEURISTIC. HUMANS ARE VOYEURS! We observe the world with our eyes and we judge, constanstatnly, sensorially, morally, spiritually. You may find this work distasteful. You may be bothered by what appears to be a wealthy, young caucasian european entering a world that appears sexy (foreign, dark, titilating, etc) in comparison to his own world and find this superficial at best or disappointing at worst, but this does not relate to a judgment of morality. this is a judgement of debth or social/ethnic obtuseness.

    You and I have often shared this same idea, especially as it regards Asian, since Asian society (whatever that means) and culture have played an important part in our lives, since we both have lived there and have deep roots there. I would remind you too, that morality is also contextual: that what defines ‘goodness’ at least when it comes to social behavior/action is not, necessarily, as universal as those weened upon Western ideals would lead us to believe.

    There are more important things to me in my life than photography (to live well, lovingly, morally and to help others, including in my judgement of them), and this does NOT conflict with being a photographer or a writer.

    It is EASY to condemn another, especially through an algebra of ‘moral’ language….it is much much harder to find the path by which one can recognize why the richness and the complexity of our humanity must be told….because we are bound to one another….not through our condemnations but through our connections…

    i hope that makes sense…

    all the best

  • Sidney,

    thanks for sharing your point of view and your doubts: this is one of the cases (together with war, famine… etc) where a thin line is drawn and lot of questions can be addressed to the photograper whichever position he chooses. However, I find myself closer to Lee’s position. I don’t agree about the fact that hanging out with Yakuza, with the aim of getting an insight on their lives, necessarily equals to approve them. And also for what concerns the “glorifying their activities” issue, I think that it is too early (Anton just showed us a couple of shots) for judging the aim (and the faithfulness to such aim) of the whole work.

  • BOB B,

    I suspect your post was written before you could read my second post, immediately above (?)… perhaps your response might have been slightly different had you read my qualification of my earlier statements (???… or not, as the case may be!)

    You (and others?) may have felt I was condemning Anton… that was certainly not my intention. What I said was that, “I, personally, would find it morally indefensible to hang out with yakuza”… given what I know and what I’ve seen. That ‘judgment’ was only meant to apply to me. But, without pre-judging Anton, I still think it is fair to raise this kind of question in relation to this kind of project. If he were really only an ‘observer’ I would agree with most of your points. But it sounds like his situation is a little more akin to the ’embedded’ reporters and photographers of the Second Gulf War. If so, that raises all the issues that came with ’embedding.’ Maybe I am wrong, but in reading his brief note above I got the idea that the gangsters have veto power over which of his photos are released and which are not. True? I suggest that that changes the situation a bit from one of purely neutral observation.

    It seems to me that both Nachtwey and Leni Riefenstahl are extreme cases that don’t really shed light on this situation. Lee Guthrie brought up photos of prostitution, and I think she was probably talking about Katharina’s essay on a Bangkok prostitute. I remember a very impassioned and prolonged discussion about that one, so I was surprised no one had raised any similar issues with this project of Anton’s. Perhaps all possible moral and ethical conundrums had been settled already in that earlier discussion??!! (In Katharina’s case, I was one of her defenders. But why reopen that can of worms?).

    Bob, that reminds me a lot of “Guns Don’t Kill People! People Kill People!” (sorry, couldn’t resist…)

    If one is merely observing, fine… but the reality is that people DIRECT their own attention and try to DIRECT others’ attention… they choose to observe some things over others. For reasons I don’t pretend to understand, Anton has chosen to fly halfway round the world and ’embed’ himself with a group of Japanese Yakuza. That is quite an amazing feat, really it is… but don’t you think it is fair to ask, “Why?”, and also to ask, are there possibly any problems associated with that? Any compromises involved? Anything to worry about beyond one’s physical safety?
    Like I’ve said (twice, now), I don’t think there are any easy answers… nor do I suggest that Anton’s answers be the same as mine. But I like to think that somebody is at least asking the questions.

  • sidney, one last thing to consider….

    a reaction to the book “Pink Box” by Joan Sinclair…have you seen the book??…about the Japanese Sex Trade…or the book Michio Soejima’s book on Yakuza??…i saw it a couple of years ago…..

    and lastly have a read of David Kaplan’s book on Yakutza……offers some interesting insights into the history of Yakuza, it’s relationship (through the history of japanese society) with non-gang life (business life, political leaders, samurai, sex trade, drug trade, nationalism, etc)…the truth is, the condemnation of these gangs is easy for us, but it has a very very different historical context and relationship from withing……..there are lots of gray areas Sidney…and the only way for us, as people, or members of any society is to get as much understanding and to do our homework and to try to understand what it is that is ‘good’ and what it is (and why), behavior is bad…….

    objecting to behavior of a specific group/person is one thing, objecting to the photographing of people/groups/acts you find objectionable is very different….

    true Godfather totally glamorized Costa Nostra, but does this preclude photographers and or writers from trying to depict, understand, document the society?….

    when we condemn the actions of others on the ground of our own moral judgments (in this case the ‘acceptance’ of anton’s work, involvement with this group), we must proceed with caution…

    write u later in the weekend…


  • Sidney,

    “Or that, like the poor, the gangsters will ‘always be with us’,” nice quote Sidney!

    “Photography is voyeurism. Yes, flash us a little more thigh… make the atmosphere a little darker… give us ‘meat’… titillate us with just a little more threat of danger, sex, and violence than we had before… leading to… what? Well, that is certainly one kind of art. Modern, urbane, and popular. Burners eat it up.”

    I think (know) that it is more than this. Give the guy a break Sidney! He has only posted two photographs!

    Let’s just think for a moment about how many months have been spent in getting such access. My only concern is that both parties must agree on which photographs are available for publication.

    From the little I (we) have seen Soichiro; by showing Anton the work of Watanabe Katsumi, he shows that he is visually literate. He obviously has an agenda; and I hope that it is to document the Yakuza in the 21st Century. My hope is that Soichiro will agree publication of every photograph that does not identify people in the acts of crime and therefore subject to prosecution.

    I’m reminded of the book “Things As They Are” – not-so-much for content as for a statement. We don’t have to agree with what we photograph. If we did there would be no photographs of war, corruption, social deprivation etc. That said I am a champion of POSITIVE photography as a foil to the doom, death etc. that can pervade ‘serious photography”.

    Everyone has an agenda here.

    Anton, just remember Phillip Jones Griffiths and Vietnam Inc.

    Best wishes, stay safe, enjoy,


  • Sidney :))

    yes, I wrote my post BEFORE reading your 2nd :))…and i was typing fast (as i am now)…

    let me just say (so it is clear) that I know and understood that you were NOT condemning Anton (as a person) nor suggesting that he was immoral/amoral for hanging out with Yakuza, but Anton’s judging us (the writers) who supported the work without ‘questioning’ the ethics of choosing to hang out with these guys, and by that, tacitly condoning their behavior/lifestyle/business practices/criminal behavior….but, still, i think that is, in fact, off the mark too…

    I agree, 100%, that the QUESTION that you have asked is IMPORTANT! I wrote long about Katrina’s work (which i support fully) but also wrote there, and elsewhere, about this important consideration: our relationship to subjects and material. I even asked Nachtwey about this: at Road Trips AND IN PERSON, when i met and spoke with him one-to-one at David’s. Yes, for me, the most important (Joe, rolling his eyes, cause he’s heard me ask this question ad nauseum ;))) ), is ‘;WHY?

    A photographer should ask themselves WHY they are photographing, why they are photographing people. We use people, all of us, and it, in truth, is this job is not sacrosanct. We must come to terms with this dilemma. It is a difficult problem and an important question: how is it that we photograph others and why are we doing this? This is a complex and difficult question and cannot, nor should be, arrived at easily and perfunctorily. However, it is also, I think, unfair to suggest that hanging out with Yakuza is the same as acknowledging their behavior as just or fair or good or moral. In truth, i spend a lot of time with people I am troubled by. I teach students, with whom I would probably not wish to spend a lot of time. I once had a student whose former job was as the Czech version of KGB….and he told me horrific stories….and he was ‘proud’ of what he’d done ….and yet, there he was, in my class, 1991, learning english, telling me his exploits….also, when Richards photographs a father punching his child or a pimp beating up his prostitute, is he condoning this?…..

    I’ve written publically and privately to Anton about this…why has he chosen, as a young, smart, kind, wealthy young man from Belgium, to photograph this group, in a country he is not a part of….the same question, i asked my friend Don Weber, why did he choose to build/begin his photographic career on the Gangs and criminals of Ukraine….exploitation…curiosity….connection….

    see Sidney, we must always (in my opinion) first try to connect, to understand, to not judge, but to wrestle with….to accept and try to work toward change…change comes not from judgment but from education….maybe it’s the buddhist teaching, maybe it’s others, but i just think that the quicker we judge others, the farther we fall aside from the need for ‘moral’ behavior to begin with…which is to attempt to reduce suffering, of one another…

    make sense

    ok, gotta run home…


  • Sidney, all,

    for heaven’s sake, not for an instant was a comparison between Anton and Leni Riefenstahl implied! If you read my posting carefully, you’ll see that I am only referring to her infamous case just as a prime example of the possible conflict between aesthetic and moral value of a work of art, since her case in particular is always discussed in philosophical discussions of this very issue. It is absolutely clear that in her case an otherwise gifted artist really did sell their soul to the devil, there was no disconnect between her art and her moral values. Unlike her, I was suggesting that both Anton and those of us who expressed admiration for his project have our moral values and commitments straight, and can distinguish between appreciating something artistically and condemning it morally. Sorry for the long-winded explanation, but I was incredibly surprised that you seemed to have misunderstood my point and implied I was comparing Anton to her. I was suggesting exactly the opposite.

  • I must speak up here. There seems to be an assumption being made that Sidney is judging Anton and his choices. I also heard, at least in Bob’s comments, a bit of a chiding tone that implied that Sidney did not know the history of the Yakuza, was not trying hard enough to understand Anton’s point of vew, and should be less judgemental.

    The truth is I’d bet that no one here knows more about the history and actions and consequences of those actions of the Yakuza than Sidney. Have any of the rest of us lived in Japan for twenty years of our adult lives?

    And as far as I see it, Sidney is simply asking questions and sharing his own feelings and attitudes about such a project, specifically about the subject of Anton’s essay.

    His questions are important ones that we’ve grappled with before but will never settle. They are questions each of us needs to ask and answer ourselves; no one has “the answer” because there is no single answer. But when we open the floor for such discussions we all gain from hearing one another’s views. That is if we can keep an open mind and not hop on the questioner.

    To me, this kind of discussion is what Burn is all about…


  • Kathleen,

    re: the police, I think you are being very naive. Theoretically the police should be the antithesis of criminals, but all to often they are worse than them. I think any time you are stopped by a cop it is a close call. All too often these days the police abuse, grossly abuse, their power. Who is better in Anton;s case? I’d say the cops are more dangerous for him than the mob because he has a relationship with the mobsters he is associating with, the cops are strangers, all to often on a power trip for whatever reason. I dont trust cops, and they have earned my mistrust.

    As far as Sidney, it is attacks on the photog’s character and ethics that fly around much too often around here and which have turned my participation here from active to almost nonexistant. People here dont know how far is too far with some of their critiques.

  • Patricia:

    I WAS NOT chiding Sidney….not at all…i was doing challenging Sidney’s comments about what he wrote about Anton’s decision to photograph them, implying very clearly that Anton’s decision was questionable, on moral grounds….I was refering to a book that might be insightful as to coloring in some of the history of the Yakuza….living in Japan gives Sidney, for sure, some authority on a life there, it does not necessarily make him an expert on the group or its history….nor does expertise or inexpertise disqualify sidney from making his point….or from other disagreeing….

    why is it that if one member questions, it’s supported…if another member challenges those claims, it’s seen as bullying….i was very clear about my support and endorsement of Sidney’s right and responsibility to voice his opinion….

    as for Yakuza…how about I had a student whose father IS A MEMBER, whom i have spent time with talking about this, asking her to discuss and write about this and photographing her as well and her relationship to life here, outside of the world she grew up in…and until now, you did not hear me calling myself an authority or demeaning others lack of authority because they support this picture….

    i didnt live in japan, but i have live in asia, have spent the last 15 years teaching, befriending and having close personal relationship with people in japan…..

    neither i nor sidney are authorities on Yakuza, (that’s why i refered to Kaplan, who is, for insight into the history and culture of the group), but this does not disqualify either of us or anyone else to support or question Anton’s work…..

    all i would suggest to Sidney is this: it is infact questionable to question the moral voracity of another photographers action based on a personal point of view with regard to a group of people….

    sorry Patricia, but i do take offense at suggesting that i was being patronizing to Sidney.


  • Sidney

    Thankyou for stirring the pot , and challenging us to examine our souls a little. It has been getting a little boring here lately, with a bit of a “love-fest” atmosphere. You are braver than I. I tend to bite my tongue (if ya can’t say something nice…} Yes, chickenshit.

    I have to admit to being one of the “boy scouts in the whorehouse” types myself. Not that I necessarily have a problem with this specific project, but really with any project that explores and seems to celebrate the underside of life.

    It’s not that I think we should ignore life’s underside. Lord knows life has a big underside. Within sight of my kitchen where I’m typing is a trailer which has been a druggie hangout for ages, and where a man was beaten to death a month ago.

    However surrounding this trailer, and the kind of life it represents, are hundreds and hundreds of other homes where ordinary decent people play out their stories and their lives. The druggies are much more interesting, and would make much better press I guess. But the stories of ordinary people and their struggles and triumphs are much more important and interesting to me. My favourite essays so far on burn has been “Brigitte et Bernard”, and “Garage Sale”. So you can see where I’m coming from.

    Why is it that we are fascinated by the tacky underside? Why the hell is the National Inquirer one of the largest publications on the planet? Why do “ladies love outlaws”, and why are we drawn to such stuff?

    I have to admit, I too am tittilated too by such stuff. But it is a guilty pleasure.

    Anton, truly and sincerely, this is not a judgment or criticism. I’m fascinated by your project, and know nothing of who you are, or your motivation or Japanese culture. I’m fascinated. Good luck to you and your project, I’ll gobble it up with the rest. I’m just thinking out loud here.

    Gordon L.

  • good morning all… at least in japan here it’s morning :-)
    really cool to wake up to such an interesting discussion going on! this is exactly what i had hoped for… i am in no way offended by anyone’s viewpoints, and i’m glad the discussion is about the topic, and that there is little “discussion about the discussion”

    naturally, i have some things to say. here goes:

    I’ll start off by saying that to the post above a synopsis has been added so (hopefully) it is clear what i’m doing, or trying to do.

    i’ll recap that short paragraph here so you don’t need to scroll up :-)

    About the Essay

    Soichiro is the lead character of the story that i’m starting to tell, about a Yakuza family in Japan. After more than 10 months of preparation, my brother and I have been granted access to start a long-term project to document the visible and hidden life of that particular family. All names used in the account above (and previous and future accounts) are fictional.

    Here on BURN, i will regularly provide visual and textual accounts of our adventures.

    I hope to be able to publish a book on this story.

    okay, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way.

    Next up, i’ll be re-reading all comments above very carefully over morning coffee, trying to read into the tone of what people are trying to say, and to respond if i feel i need to…

  • gordon…

    thanks for the reply… please know one thing: i am definitely NOT celebrating the underside of life. Just look at my previous essay “Sugar”, which couldn’t be more seemingly ‘opposite’ to what i am doing now.

    But… and this is in part a reply to Sidney as well, i am also not staying away from it because of my possible conflicting views or ethics or morals.

    maybe i can open up the discussion into something more general: would you photograph a story if it were conflicting with your own views on life, your morals?

  • Here we go, some replies after morning coffee…

    Sidney –

    i know you mean well, and you raise important questions, but i haven’t ever told you about my own background, my personal relationship to japan, how long i’ve lived or not lived there or my reasons for being there in the first place, and what not. I don’t think i will, because i feel it shouldn’t be relevant to choosing a project and committing to it. That’s why i don’t bring it up.

    I do think it’s really good that you brought up the subject, because the first thing it did, was make me retrace my steps and think my choices and views and approach over, in the different light you painted them in. See if they still held up. VERY good exercise, and REALLY good you did speak up amigo, please keep on doing so. I defenitely deepened my general sense of “responsibility”, and i believe that THAT was exactly what you were referring to. am i correct?

    Also please believe this: i know exactly where i stand morally, what is good what is bad, what is black what is white and what is grey. Knowing where i stand, gives me the strength to do what i’m doing. Knowing where i stand, does not define my choice of projects. My subjects are not a representation of my beliefs.

    Of course you are free to judge me on this, and i will never hold this against you. But right now it just seems to me to be a tad to premature, after just two images and only a thousand words :-)

    The whole reason i put text and images up on BURN is that this is the one place where i feel we are able to talk about it in depth with like-minded people, photographers, editors, viewers, interested parties and the like… and “talking in depth”, that is something you certainly do! There are so many questions you raised, is there any one in particular you want my views on?

    cheers and thanks for the insights,

  • Sidney (again) –

    About the “embargo” on images:
    it is nothing more than my two-thumbs up approach, by wich both parties (photographer and subject) have the veto to withhold any image from publication. nothing complicated, i do this for any given project.

    I try to treat anyone, like i would want to be treated myself. With respect, clear intention to both parties, open eyes and an open mind.

  • Bob bro –

    About being a “wealthy, young caucasian european”:
    two out of three my friend…. because i’m definitely not wealthy.

    At least not by Belgian standards, even less so by US standards, and certainly not Japanese standards.

    In fact, i have to scramble every last cent that i have to be able to pay for the next flight to Japan. Right now i have saved enough for two more flights. Which is not enough, given the 2 years time i will need to complete. As soon as i get back in two weeks, i will be making a detailed budget analysis, and actively seek funding to be able to complete this project, because, as it stands now, i will not be able to complete it (financially).

    It does worry me, but for now, i have faith that the images of my first shoots, will open some doors for me in one way or another.

    This is my reality.

  • Anton

    I’m sure you don’t condone or admire the activities of these people. However, just drawing attention to them celebrates them, just as gangsters and outlaws have always been celebrated in movies etc. What message do you hope to send? As an observer, and recorder, you cannot avoid a point of view. Access to the sub-culture, and friendship with its members implies a sympathetic perspective. Presumably, a critical perspective would not be welcomed by your hosts. How do you handle that?


  • anton :)))

    i know…i meant ‘wealthy’ as in the way people think of westerners…anyway…im taking a 10 minute break from writing M’s text….i didnt mean u r rich ;)) (i know you, remember ;))) ), i mean, the ‘perception’ of how people judge this young belgian dude running off to japan ;)))…anyway, i hope my defense of your work makes sense and doesnt alienate Sidney or others….what’s an older brother to do ;))))))))

    Patricia:..:)) .do not worry, all is ok…the web conversation, it’s viral ;))…anyway, i’ll write u tomorrow…gotta an essay to finish for mr.s b….

    ok, now, off…

    hugs y’all


  • Anton,

    You are a class act my friend… Love the way you are responding to the questions raised. I agree that you should not have to share your own background or personal relationship to Japan to justify yourself working on this topic. Having said that, since the very first photograph you have shared with us, I have been wondering why this topic, what attracted you to this story and I hope that you will share this with us at some stage, maybe when the project has gone further… If you do not share it widely on Burn, I will get it from you over a beer in Belgium :):):)….

    I have to say that I really enjoyed reading this debate that your work has generated and thanks also to Sydney for having started it. Whether we agree or not, Sydney made us all think about our motives for what we choose to photograph and reflect on our responsibility for what we show, how we show it. Very healthy reminder… I do however know from the little I have seen of you that you seem to be the type of person that know right from wrong and I am sure you will not forget this along the way in Japan….

    As far as this particular photograph that you have chosen, I kind of like it and actually I recognize in it the “Anton” touch in the way you have shot it but somnehow, seems almost a different topic or photographer vs the first photograph. What pulled me in with your first photograph was that you were in there (more would not have been possible :):) close, not hidden… I loved the proximity of the first shot, I enjoy less the 2nd in that sense even if it is aesthetically pleasing…

    In any case, I look forward to see how this story develops. I am sure your topic will continue to generate some healthy debate.

    Hope to see you sometimes waffle, fries or beer… you choose and I invite you given you are not wealthy :):):)



  • love
    the energy

  • eric –

    thanks for the comment. I WILL take you up on that offer!!! As a real belgian, i choose “fritten met stoofvlees en mayonnaise”… with a beer of course :-)


    let’s cross our schedules when i get back

  • bobb –

    phew thanks! :-)

  • ALL….

    THIS is want i want BURN to be….civilized discussion and thoughtful dissent…..totally different perspectives and opinions so impassioned, so well researched, and so well written…..

    many thanks you to all of you now engaged in this brilliant unit of intelligent dialogue about Anton’s work….

    cheers, david

  • Gordon –

    glad you liked Sugar :-)

    And a good and difficult question. The simple act of showing my images makes a point of view by the viewer unavoidable. Totally agree.

    At this point, i can only say that i approach the subject without being critical or sympathetic. But i will approach the hell out of it.

    Even though i do have a strong point of view about all forms of violence, i think i would feel uncomfortable imposing a critical or sympathetic view upon myself (and thus all others involved, also counting the viewers at a later stage)

    That said, i WILL be imposing a very strong artistic view on the subject. As strong as i possibly can. Damn strong. I sincerely do hope i will be let in deep enough so i will be able to create this artistic authorship, about a unique and very closed world that has just opened up to me. And i sincerely hope i will be talented enough to be able to pull this off….

    And also, at the same time, i hope it will be “documentary enough” so it will carry some legitimacy in itself, past the pure sensational surface-scratching that so many have done already.

    I might be tempted to call it “conceptual documentary”, though i don’t like to categorize, and i certainly don’t have the images yet to show for it…

    makes sense to you?

    you (and sidney, and bob, and everybody else) certainly made me think all morning about this, it’s past lunchtime here already, af been at the computer thinking, contemplating, weighing in, for about 4 hours now!!!! but very useful hours they were indeed…

    A side note:
    During the preliminary talks we have discussed at length that at some point there will be disturbing and compromising images. They are of course not naive in their world view, or their own actions, or the consequences that could come forth out of the potential publishing of my images, and they are totally aware of the judgment that people will or will not make upon seeing the images.

  • God, I admire the heck out of you, Anton. Your postings here are making me and every one of us dig deeper into our own selves & ask questions many of us have never asked before. You are so clear in your intent and articulate in expressing it. I tell you, my friend, there is no question in my mind about where this will all lead. You are traveling a remarkable path and the destination may be unknown but the success of the project is guaranteed. At least that’s how I see it.

    love you fella,

  • Why do ladies love outlaws? Why not?

    Outlaws need love too.


  • Hi Lee. Yes indeed, outlaws need love too. But I think that some ladies love outlaws because they are dangerous, dead sexy, and in need of rescue.

  • Rafal:

    I am sorry you have had bad experiences with the police. I have seen police abuse, stupidity, prejuidice and power trips in the United States. And i live in the third world where corruption is even worse than rampant. i have seen it first hand at VERY high levels of law enforcement. So i´m not naive. Perhaps i am just not cynical. For all the schmucks i´ve seen in law enforcement i have seen many more being decent individuals and very professional in their jobs. I have seen them really trying to make people safer here. I have seen them underequipped and out-gunned by the criminals. I have seen them work their asses off to catch criminals who are back out on the street hours later. I have seen them solve horrible and brutal crimes with next to nothing for clues. Just their own dogged perseverance and networking brought terrible people to justice. They´re not all perfect but then, who is?

    Rafal, i have had a loaded and cocked gun pointed at me here and talked my way out of it. i was almost raped and talked my way out of that too. i have been mugged twice in twenty minutes. My family and my office have been robbed at gun and knife point. My children´s dad just had his car window shot out as he was driving. Naive? i think not.

    What you saw as naivete was íntentional. I was attempting to draw Anton out. I was piqued by his apparent comfort level with a criminal element and his paranoia and distrust of law enforcement. This would almost seem the logical result of his associations. This is why i asked what he might have been doing that would be considered illegal by the police unless it was ´merely´ guilt by association, i.e. a potentially serious involvement that hopefully does not lead into a dark alley without an escape route. I was concerned for him and fearful of an ever widening circle of shady pals and and an ever deepening immersion in this underworld subculture. Rafal, you and i and others here know what it is to be a foreigner. When it comes to loyalty we are alone and far from home when stuff gets rough. Anton is a visitor in Japan. In some ways that´s an even more tenuous connection with a country than a legal resident might have if things get difficult. I like the project, but i am not one who goes to an air show hoping to see a crash. I want to know that Anton´s safe. It´s the mother in me :))

    It is too bad you are not around more often. I am sorry to hear your remarks to Sidney. Your positive contribution would be most appreciated. Your silence is deafening. i mean that, Rafal.


  • Anton, Good to hear you are back and things are progressing. You have done incredibly well to have gained this access for your work. I fully appreciate Sidney’s point, but I personally believe that your level head and personal ethics will guide you through this work to eventually yield an essay that is not sensational or glorifies the Yakusa. This is the ultimate responsibility and the burden you shoulder. I have every faith that you will deliver. Do Have to say though that i’m not sold on the image you posted. I love where you are going style wise, but to me there is nothing I can focus on that pulls me into the image. It could work with a larger body of work (which is of course the ultimate goal), but as a single it’s too loose for me. I wish you all the very best my friend, be safe out there, I cant wait to see more!!

  • I believe that one end product from a photographer’s work is that someone who hasn’t seen a particular thing or person or event or tragedy, is made aware. Because there is a photographer there to record it. Whatever that photographer’s agenda, the end result is someone sees something they haven’t seen before.

    Gordon, I like the dangerous and deadly sexy and maybe an occasional rescue.


  • sidney is as brilliant as anton is gracious..

  • all –

    have to turn in now, big day tomorrow…

    will be back here as soon as i can

    but i’m sure the discussion will keep on going, this is a too interesting a subject :-)

    james! –

    yes you are right of course as this is more of a “careful” image, in which the mood/atmosphere takes precedence over actual content. Also, i will still have to do a lot of (soul) searching to strike (what i feel would be) the exact right chord.

    But i am actually very excited, not only to get the chance to do this, but to get the chance to share this usually very personal process with all you guys on BURN… I feel i have to step up my game to the max, becasue i have to answer to all you guys as well!

    laughing…. :-)))

    kat –

    many thanks for the motherly worries :-)))

    ciao ciao

  • anton

    good luck my friend and keep your confidence HIGH – you´ve a talent and an eye all of your own..

    david, beate and top cat (man, now he can grab he loves that viking mobile you sent him all the more :ø)

  • ALL…

    so many of you have reflected my views on this..from both sides…in an official debate, i could argue both sides….so i will be brief….

    this is one of those issues that comes up all the time among documentary photographers…and all of you have written quite well about the pros and cons and morality of photographing something or someone who you would not “endorse” were there not a camera in hand….

    some documentary photographers work with a “cause” in mind…i think Phillip Jones-Griffiths truly believed the Vietnam War to be so unjust that he just could not help himself…he HAD to do something about it , or try, so he used the only “weapon” he had…his camera..

    there have been many “war photographers” who followed PJG who had no such motivation….there is a shallow group of photographers who will work in areas that would seem to be “important”, but who are really just trying to win the next World Press award….they often put themselves and others in great danger just for the sake of “getting famous”…

    one must look very carefully at each photographer to determine motivation….the same topic came up recently here in a discussion about the “motivations” of Sobol with “Sabine”….did Sobol really fall in love or was Sabine “used” as fodder for a book as some here suggested???

    Rafal, i am a bit shocked you would think that a comment like Sidney’s would somehow thwart discussion here or somehow negate or inhibit Anton…IMO Sidney could not have explained himself better…he was not on a “rant” and he was speaking from personal experience…he brought up totally legitimate points to which Anton responded in kind….however, i would agree with you that often there is a very fine line, or no line, between police and the criminals they are paid to fight…there are good cops and bad cops with good and bad motivations, just as there are photographers with exactly the same myriad of motivations…all of us must constantly judge and evaluate commentors, cops, photographers, government spokesmen, preachers, teachers, and grocery store clerks….credibility is an issue period…..

    there is no doubt that Anton has his hands full both logistically and morally….and what he thinks today , he may not think in three months or a year or even after his book is published….i do not fear for his safety on this project….i worked briefly with the bozuzoku, the motorcycle gang branch of of yakuza, and once they have accepted you , there is no danger whatsoever…yes, gangsters in general DO have their own “morality” and would totally protect anyone “inside” their circle….

    my fear for Anton is something else…

    the problem is not safety, the problem is how not to become a part of the “public relations” campaign of the yakuza who seek desperately a certain acceptance in society…..

    all “gangsters” are looking for legitimacy…

    in their own minds they do a lot of “good things”..and if you believe in the “wild west” mentality, they do some “good things”…they see themselves as a combo of “real police” and providing certain social services which they think organized governmental society does not provide.. their views are not my opinion, but their self justification can go something like this: the Mafia neighborhoods in New York are the safest of all and they have the best paved streets in town and the best basketball courts…..they pride themselves in assassinating child molesters, rapists, etc who would never be brought to justice under “the law’…in other words upholding “rough justice”…my “gangsters” in the South Bronx had similar “values”… i am sure the yakuza have the same “codes of justice”…

    Anton’s challenge, in my opinion, is how to document legitimately by being an “insider” without being “used”…exactly the opposite situation of some critics evaluation of Sobol and “Sabine”…

    Anton’s “two thumbs up” approach to editing is the way i worked with the Living Proof underworld and now also with my family project…this approach obviously “works” because the subject of the document is unlikely to turn down this “offer”…but, it does present potential compromise in either imagery or intent from every angle…how Anton tweaks the line with this , is far and away his most formidable challenge and one of which he is totally and painfully aware…..we have discussed this at great length and will continue to do so…

    personally i think Anton can “survive” the yakuza scrutiny of his work and still have photographs from a part of society we know little about and exhibit with artistic aplomb….

    as Dmitri so correctly says, “if we did not get our hands dirty, we would live in a world where we would hear nothing, see nothing, know nothing”…

    cheers, david

  • DAH fleshed out so many of my thoughts and concerns on this project in your usual prgmatic and articulate manner. Being used by the Yakuza was a big concern of mine but i didn´t know how to put it into words. You reassured me as to his relative safety within the group but i still wonder about what would happen if cops, undercover or otherwise decided to scrutinize Anton´s activities. But that´s his problema. You also shed light for me on the agenda of any criminal element to gain legtimacy within society. I didn´t know this at all and it really amps up the tension in this project in a most interesting way. How far can Anton get with telling the truth, how much resistance will the Yakuza put up if they see that Anton has his own voice, vision and desire to speak, i.e. what happens if his agenda and their agenda become opposing thumbs on the same project? Sidney referenced this as well. I think those in the underworld must have enormous egos just in order to survive such a difficult place. And the more successful the more confident, cocky and controlling they become. I wonder really whether they will permit any other vision of themsevles but their own. Now that i have been reassured as to Anton´s safety, well, i can get out the popcorn and sit down and enjoy the show. BRING IT ON ANTON!


  • David Alan

    Thanks once again for your wonderful insight.

    I have always wondered about the motivations of photographers who choose to do this sort of work. Part of me wants to believe it is true concern and a desire to make the world a better place. People like Lewis Hine and Eugene Smith. I attended a lecture and slide show by Smith years ago and he actually broke down while showing “Minimata”.

    The other part of me knows that there must certainly be the “shallow” group you speak of who only seek to exploit and feed what must be enormous egos. I was astounded and disgusted to watch a documentary recently featuring an Aussie adventurer who tried to be the first man to kayak from Australia to New Zealand alone. He died trying, leaving a wife and small son. The documentary was implying that such adventurers were to be admired as heroes. I just kept thinking, what an idiot. His collosal ego was much more powerful and important to him than his love for his family. What a stupid thing to loose your life over.

    I can tell by the respect shown to Anton by those here that know him, that he is must be a genuine and honorable guy. I do look forward to seeing the project unfold.

    Gordon L.

  • DAH,

    thank you for summarizing the issues in such an articulate way. It is wonderful that all of us are having this discussion here, disagreeing and arguing heatedly, perhaps even passionately, but at the same time so respectfully.

    Gordon, I agree with you about people who would heed nothing in pursuit of their vainglorious ambitions. However, I think this is a wider issue that you are raising. What I mean is that I think it’s one thing for instance for a photographer to put his life on the line in order to expose some atrocity, genocide, etc. (even if at the same time they are seeking fame), and a different issue to actually have to BECOME INVOLVED with the people committing that atrocity in order to get access and photograph it. I am guessing that a war photographer, even one with less noble motivations than Jones-Griffiths or Gene Smith, does not necessarily have to kowtow to the warring parties in order to do his job. Here I think we have been discussing an even more complicated issue, about projects that necessitate that the photographer become personally involved with people he/she may find ethically abhorrent.

  • Dimitri

    Yes, it is complicated stuff, especially in such situations where the pictures would not happen without the co-operation of the subjects.

  • Guess I missed out on some controversy here, so all I’m going to say is that I’m excited to see this project and love that we are given glimpses along the way. I feel like it will be amazing…

  • David,

    sure, Sidney brought up legit points but I think he crossed the line with one sentence. I find that there are times here when the discussion goes from the work, and Im all for hard critiquing of the work, to harsh critiquing, often in a rude way, of the author. I think thats going too far. I feel Sidney crossed that line, though he isnt the first to do so, and I was surprised HE would do it. I think Burn is a great place, I havent had much time to participate here lately for numerous reasons, but I think that people should be much more careful what they write and how they write it. Anyway, thats how I saw it and I think others did too.

  • RAFAL…

    your analysis is fair enough and i always respect your opinions…disagreeing with you on the overall suggestion of “rude”, but respecting your view nonetheless…..i suppose i am always just relieved when we do not have a UFO on a rant (see my note below)…. and maybe Sidney did step over the line with one sentence (i will have to go back and re-read) but all in all it seemed to me that he simply gave his honest opinion…and he did take the time to write carefully and he definitely knows the yakuza ..these are not nice men…i would tend to cut Sidney some slack even if one sentence did cross some line…Anton certainly handled it well in any case…. there seems to be mutual respect between Sidney and Anton, so if neither one of them is feeling negative towards the other, then i think the rest of us should move on…

    cheers, david

    p.s. i think you know my right hand man , printer, workshop organizer Mike Courvoisier…one day, frustrated by the UFO’s and trolls , he decided to hunt some of them down…being the tech geek that Mike is, he could not resist tracking down the computers from which some of the vitriol from last week was coming….surprise , surprise, surprise….yup, you guessed it…folks we know (or thought we knew) and like… wearing a mask and singing a different tune than the REAL THEM…..i must say this was a fascinating wake up call for me and revealed one more aspect of human personality that invites study….i will give no names….but, if “you” are reading this, then you now know that i know….is it just jealousy pure and simple that makes some people just get really weird???? i wish i could imagine another motive..hmmmmmmm

  • …self righteous …
    Cops wanabees…perfect “men”
    Smells like sulfur… Yikes..

  • Sidney??
    Crossed the line???
    Oh please??
    People can’t even breath in here anymore without
    apologizing every other sentence…
    ( now let ME apologize:)))
    Sorry y’all ..
    I know u missed my late nite show ..!
    Please leave Sidney alone..
    I’ll be back ..
    “the man to blame for everything”…
    I was just moping floors and moving stuff..

  • Sidney..a great gentleman, a wonderful writer, so earnest in every thought he brings to Burn. I can hardly imagine leaving Burn because of anything he could possibly say. I simply can’t imagine such a thing. He’s a treasure.


  • David;

    “folks we know (or thought we knew) and like…..” I’m sorry to hear that David, human character is a weird thing to work out at times.

    Here are a couple of quotes from one of my heroes that I think are applicable. Please excuse the religious content, but they can be transposed into everyday life too. They’re from Francis of Assisi; a man I admire for showing that actions speak louder than words.

    “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words”; I’ve always loved this, walk the walk rather than talk the talk. I think many could take this on board.

    “A real friend is someone who walks in when the rest of the world walks out”

    And one totally unrelated quote of his (but thought I’d share it anyway :-0) that is pinned up on my wall; “Start by doing what is necessary, then what is possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible”

    I read what Sidney had to say and it seemed fine, general questions about a subject we all face when working.

    Cheers for now;


  • Kathleen..
    Thank you..
    Sidney just ( very very carefully )
    submitted his experience .. His opinions..
    And Anton ( real fucking gentleman )…
    took it from there..
    That what Burn is all about…
    And Gordon said it right..
    Too much “fake love” lately that makes u wanna puke..
    And then the “Burn police”
    Showed up..
    Oh… Everything was so civilized before Sidney or fucking
    panos showed up..
    The same peops that never contribute in anything
    unless their “essay” is up or to “vote off” me..
    From the bottom of my heart..
    F**k those NEGATORS…
    ( one of my dark kids terminology)..
    NEGATOR is an old dinasaur that instead
    of going out and shoot or contribute here..
    they pop up only to show and reveal their little nasty souls
    Like we don’t know…

    Thank u Kathleen..
    ( I’m on the iPhone.. No “real” Internet yet..)
    Coming soonest..
    with a bunch of new songs..
    peace out…

  • DAH

    “now wearing a mask and singing a different tune than the REAL THEM” that old Moody Blues song goes, “but we decide which is right and which is an illusion”

    so sadsadsadsad that some people feel the need to hide their true feelings and opinions…maybe, maybe, knowing they’ve been outed in “main office” they will be shamed into gathering the courage to be themselves and say what’s on their mind. People might not like what you have to say but they’ll know you spoke sincerely and fearlessly and that earns their respect. Hey, i stick my foot in it all the time but what the hell? It’s just a website, just a photograph and everyone here is just as fallible as i am, some even more so, heh ;););) So more of that stuff, k? it’s ickycreepyweird.


  • Anton: Yes, yes to the max! Take your time to find your place, your feeling, your voice on this one then bring it! We’re all behind you. Do good work!

  • Kathleen; “it’s ickycreepyweird” Now that should be in a dictionary!!! VERY descriptive.

  • Panosguy,

    love your earthy gutsurge of that you have the courage to say what others wish they could say. You are exactly what i was talking about above. It’s not one thing or another that you say that form people’s opinions of you, it’s like, well, it’s like a body of’s the sum total. Like a prostitute is only as good as her last blow job (ahem, it’s the late hour that has me randied up) it’s your (and i’m not talking specifically to you here) last post that gets the ratings in the polls. Maybe you kinda lost it 9 or 10 posts back but the internet, bless it’s mortally stained soul, has ADD and a short memory to boot. Everything’s like real life just a LOT faster. That’s why it makes no sense at all to hide behind an anon. It’s just plain dumb in fact. If people find out who is doing it well, now THAT will get filed into everybody’s long term memory banks.

    Take care of YOU, Panos, get your beer stale breath of fresh air back in here real are MISSED!

    hugz, Venice Romeo..

  • The main thing is to have your intent clear within your own mind. After my last photo trip my brother in law said to me “I admire what you’re trying to do, but you know you’re not going to change anything”

    The comment didn’t really bother me, because I knew what I was trying to achieve (not in monetary terms), and knew that if I didn’t achieve it, I wouldn’t go back.

    I’m sure Anton has it sorted too, but it is still an interesting and important topic to dissect. And of course, his situation might change too.

    Half way through he may decide that his work is glamorising the “gang” culture and pull out. Who knows how events will unfold? But if he has his intent clearly defined he will surely make the right decision. This is all hypothetical of course; I don’t want to put words into Anton’s mouth.

  • Ross

    I read once that when you’re down it’s the person you least expect that will give you the helping hand. How true, no? We think we know people..*sigh*..

    ICW! ickycreepyweird
    anon slime!


  • Kathleen.

    Yes and no, how’s that for sitting on the fence!!!

    Often it’s one of the few people you trust implicitly that pull you through a bad time. If you know five friends that you can trust with your life, then you are very fortunate.

    My last three months have been pretty tough (personally, not financially) and the project I’m shooting at the moment has really helped me feel my way through it. The acceptance of the kids I’m photographing has been heartwarming and definitely helps you pull through the other side. They know nothing of my circumstances of course.

    So your other “good friend”, your camera can help too. Especially if you don’t want to hassle others with your problems. But the thing is, there’s no point being bitter about things, it eats you up way more than the other person etc.

    When you wake up in the morning, check your pulse and if it’s still going then it’s going to be a good day! Many won’t have that luxury!!

  • ahhhh Ross..

    a very inspiring attitude..i am sorry to hear about your recent clearly soak up the healing where you find it, the kids, your camera. You are a resourceful, forward thinking man. In time of trouble you look inward without turning inward. When i am very down sometimes i am apprehensive about going to the streets to shoot. i am afraid that the hard grit of that world will make things even harder for me but so often the smiles and spontaneous conversations with total strangers are more curative than a spa. Sometimes it doesn’t work that way and i find friends in trees, grass, rocks, plants, rough weather. Only rarely do i talk my troubles out with friends. For some reason that just prolongs the stress, drags it out, keeps it from diluting itself into the atmosphere. But when i do turn to someone, well i have often found that it is the one i least expect who is suddenly there in a big way for me.

    Anyway, i hope the trouble has passed and that your smiles will be ones of spontaneous joy and euphoric ooohlala, look what life hath wrought!

    give your camera a little kiss for me next time you pick it up…i mean it..nobody has to see you, just sorta hug it close, bend your head and give it a little peck on its little black lens cap. Try it..i’ve done it..eeks..i admit it! *grin*

    bestest to you Ross:

  • all –

    just back in. many comments to read again, i’ll get started right away…

  • Anton

    sorry..Ross and i sorta kinda did a joint hijacking of your thread..but we are very repentant..please forgive our thieving keystrokes! *bows head*..the Yakuza that made us do it.

    gnight Anton..great project, waiting, waiting most patiently for the next installment!’


  • kat –

    no worries dear, i’d be quite surprised if us humans could even stay on track some of the time…


  • A civilian-mass audience

    I can stay on track.

    LOVE U Anton. DAH is doing ok here…drink some J for me !!

  • all –

    phew, i’ve just tried to discuss further a few of the topics brought up here, but it just takes me too long to write this up. and i have no time!!!

    can i just say that i agree with all that has been said above, love the discussion, and that i’ll continue shooting the heck out of this project to be able to post a new image as soon as possible?

    forgive me…. i’ve been writing up for over an hour now, and it’s so imperfect that it will spark so much more discussion… so i choose to agree and Walk the Walk instead

    if you guys are ok with it of course :-)))


  • Kathleen

    I just love the way you write, if you can’t find the right word you just invent one, German style.

    Yes this has been a great discussion. I learn a lot here, often about myself.

    No matter what kind of work we choose to do, be it commercial, landscape, erotica, street, all the way to the spectrum of documentary, we need to examine our motivations, our intent, and ask ourselves what it is we are hoping to achieve (and why). The moral issues are obviously more important in some genres than otheres, but still always present. I believe David Alan had a much more elegant way of stating all this though I can’t remmember it at the moment (‘cant seem to remmember much these days}.

    It’s not enough to just go out with a camera and start blasting away looking for “good” photographs. Making photographs begins way before lifting the camera to your eye.

    Anyway, gotta go make some photograhs

    Gordon L.

  • Just went through all the posts in this discussion.

    I find myself debating such issues in my head all the time, and even though these debates are an integral part of my mental process helping me understand what my motives are, why I’m interested in a certain subject, how I feel about it and dictate—to a point—my approach to it, I usually find myself in a closed loop. It’s hard to tell the winner when you fight yourself…

    That’s why I’m always in awe of people who can break that loop and go out and actually try to do projects like the one Anton is doing.

    So, thank you all for a really nice, insightful and thought-provoking late night read.

    As for intentions, it’s hard enough trying to keep myself honest about them let alone figuring out someone else’s…

  • Thodoris –

    you hit the nail right on the head there my friend… thanks for reading through all the comments :-)


  • Gordon:

    ” it’s not enough to just go out with a camera and start blasting away looking for “good” photographs”

    It’s not? Ut-oh…

    Funny you mention German, i actually thought about that a day or two German it is to put words together. Thanks for even reading what i write, let alone enjoying it :)..thanks she said~


    phew..glad you weren’t mad!


  • Love the idea of this story, it is something every photographer in Japan would love to do but most cannot get such access. It is hard to express how much admiration I have for Anton and his brother for doing this, it is just about the most difficult thing you could do in Japan. yet this is a great story for the reason is it is all just so damn visual from tattooos to the glittering thighs of Kabukicho. Morals: you know what you believe and you will always believe but let`s not forget just as photographs of subjects we cannot know ourselves at intimately inform and mould our opinions of that subject the process of taking them must also do the same to the photographer. Perhaps Anton`s compass will shift, as it should when he learns things that he didn`t expect about the family and this life. I agree with Sidney that the Yakuza are over all not very nice people, but they are people nonetheless and they do have some humanity and they have their own morals and culture and if that exists alongside the grit and gore of criminality then it must be shown. Let`s not fool ourselves, japan is one of the most media savvy populaces on the planet of course the family have an agenda, they want legitmacy as David said: they have pride in their successes of their “business” and what we might find objectionable they find mudane. Even a veto of images will not hide all that and we know more than we think almost at a subconscious level, perhaps we cannot see the worst but we know it exists and if we see the “good” it will just make the unpleasant aspects more harshly lit, more ununderstandable thus raising questions about how this could happen that are the ones we need to ask. Damon

  • Hey Kathleen

    I know I did not state my thoughts in a very elegant way “it’s not enough”.

    Way back in 1969 as a photo student I remmeber going out with three other students on sundays looking for photographs. We’d literally drive around all day, crammed into my Austin mini, without seeing anything to photograph.

    We had no clear intent, no idea what the hell we wanted to say or why. We of course were all consumed with the mechanics of making the photographs. Mouths full of words and nothing to say. No agenda.

    I don’t personally do street photography like yourself, but I’m sure that you have a pretty clear idea of why you are there, what you want to say, and have thought about the issues of being respectful of peoples privacy, personal space dignity etc etc etc. Actually I’d love to hear how you street shooters feel about all those issues.

    The points I was so clumbsily trying to make was first, that the more clear our intent and focus are, the better likely are our photographs, and second, that moral issues are present no matter what we choose to photograph.

    Makin’ any sense here Kat?

    Gordon L

  • panos Skoulidas ( protagoras )

    totally agree..
    You make sense 100%..
    excellent point..
    We have to “make” the photo in our head/soul first..

    I also get KATHLEEN’s point..
    Since she is doing “street”
    photography it make sense for her to go out
    Seeking for photos..
    Because she already “decided” about her subject..
    Same coin different sides..
    (20 years ago I used to do the same thing..
    Walking around hoping something extraordinary will happen..
    and never happened because the extraordinary was happening
    under my nose but I couldn’t really see it..
    Sometimes I see photogs armed with 20 lenses and the latest autofocus
    hoping they will “get ” the unexpected..
    They don’t sense, no tactic, they don’t get involved neither anticipate..
    No connection..
    Just trigger happy..
    Morning y’all from Orange County..
    Shooting more families today..

  • panos Skoulidas ( protagoras )

    keep it up…
    One of my favorite movies is
    Snoop is one my friends ..
    Did Francis Copolla glamorized the MAFIA??
    As David said..
    as long as you’re not getting “used” by the
    subject for their promotion then you’re fine..
    It’s a fine line and that makes your work more interesting..
    Keep it up..
    You chose a controversial subject..
    Good for you and us..
    Thank you…
    ( and honestly, living in LA for so many years I found way
    More Honesty between the gangsters than the church going hypocrites..
    Remember.. Even Jesus loved and embraced the Whores instead of the rich
    Leica owner hypocrites…
    Jesus loved WHORES..???
    hmmm.. My kinda guy.. !!!!?)

  • Gordon

    ohmygoodness, i was kidding you :);):)..Gordon you are so lovably earnest and polite. i kiss you!!! I do know what you mean though. Yesterday i was crawling home in traffic. i saw this photo and that photo and oh crap another photo and no camera. i finally made it home and grabbed two cameras and backtracked the same route and this time, nada..the light had changed and i just saw nothing. I made some half-hearted attempts at a few half-assed subjects but it wasn´t the same. That´s what happens when i go out in a car, kitted out for a safari and look for photos. heh.

    Yes, the street is a whole ´nother story because i´m out heat-seeking life or something like it and of course anything can happen at any time and sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn´t. As far as privacy issues, etc. well, that´s a sticky wicket, no? I finally concluded (ok, rationalized) that we are filmed mercilessly and unsympathetically everywhere we turn, our faces and transactions archived who knows where and who knows for how long without anyone asking our permission so, well, so this is what i´m going to do.

    As to why. hmm..I am documenting a time, a way of life, socialization, cultural and societal influences, etc. etc. all of it. I have always been fascinated by faces and have always loved seeing photos of people on the street, especially earlier in this century. I study them, scrutinize them for clues, hints, something/anything meaningful that sheds light on what came before. What if that photographer hadn´t been there at that moment, inspired by that scene? Well, i would have been deprived of the opportunity to learn something new. When i was a kid i wanted to be an archaeologist. To me, my photos are artifacts proving that we were here today, in this place, living like this, dressing like that, walking, talking..our hearts beat right here on this street on this day at this moment. Maybe someday it will give the same clues to a future generation that i have been fortunate to receive. As far as respecting the dignity of my subjects, well i´d like to reassure you and say i would never capture my subjects yawning or puking or kissing or looking dejected but i am democratically intrigued by the good, the bad and the ugly. I love babies in their parents´arms, skateboarders and cowboys and convicts and immigrants and rich snobs and ladies who lunch and fat taxi drivers gawking at the girls and drunks crooning an impromptu acapella on the corner, belting down guaro out of a coke bottle. Sometimes i ask permission, sometimes i don´t. Sometimes i shoot from the hip, sometimes i don´t. My one no-no is someone passed out on the street. They deserve their privacy. There but for the sake of God go i and i feel proitective of their vulnerability.

    I really do not know if what i do is right or wrong. i do not know what i would do if i could never publish because of the potential for lawsuits. I have no agenda to be famous or rich or notorious. I just have no choice but to shoot what moves me the most and that is the landscape of the human face as it manifests itself to the rest of the world on the street.

    I hope i answered your question but i probably just left you with even more questions, concerns, moral dilemmas. oh well..thanks for your friendship Gordon, it is always nice hearing from you, always a special part of my day.


  • Kat

    Sorry for not thanking you earlier for your response. It helps a whole lot and gives me a better idea about who you are.
    I find it fascinating that you choose to go out “heat-seeking” and inter-acting with strangers on the street. This idea is completely foreign to me. My personal photographs are only of people who are part of my life in one way or another. I guess going out the way you do makes your subjects part of your life too.

    What we all share is the compulsion to make images, and to use our cameras as an extension of our eyes, and memory to help us make sense of the world. Mirrors and windows and all that.

    Give your favourite camera a little hug from me.

    Gordon L.

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