As a part of the launch of the Fuji X100V, Fujifilm posted a video on their YouTube channel of Japanese street photographer Tatsuo Suzuki at work. Suzuki’s aggressive style rubbed people the wrong way, and within the week, he was scrubbed from the campaign, and then erased from the Fujifilm website. Although Fujifim has yet to confirm, Suzuki has ostensibly been dropped as a Fujifilm X Photographer.
At first glance, Suzuki’s style is shocking. Never walking in a straight line, Suzuki bobs and weaves into position in an aggressive manner. The subjects that see him in advance do their best to move out of position only to be hounded by his camera. Other more obvious subjects are shocked to suddenly be confronted by a middle-aged man sticking a camera into their face. In addition to his movements, online commenters found his facial expressions repellant.
Still, I was somewhat perplexed that Fujifilm would have selected him to be a face of the brand and the launch presumably based on the quality of his photos, then suddenly dropped because of public reaction to his methodology. As with Bruce Gilden, it’s obvious from Suzuki’s photos that he has to be in close proximity to his subjects to capture his photos.
Suzuki came to street photography late in life, and started by shooting the homeless on the streets of Tokyo at age 43. In a profile with Monomania, Suzuki describes the process of moving in closer to his subjects, and slowly interacting with them to learn their backstory:
“At first, I only shot pictures of the homeless because their appearance had a huge impact on me. When I knew about how they became homeless, that impact grew stronger. This is why I continued documenting them for several years.”
In a 2013 interview with Street View Photography, Suzuki explains his attraction to photographing people, “I’m into the people, so I shoot people mainly. I would like to express their passion, feeling, pain and more. Not interested in cool composition shots…And I am not interested in comical street or humorous street shots. I would like to shoot the street in a high degree of tension.”
Tension plays a crucial role in his shooting style. While visiting Hamburg in 2018, Samuel Hopf vlogged his interaction with Suzuki – simultaneously interviewing and observing the photographer at work.
Suzuki seems well aware that his approach and appearance might give pause to an observer. “This is my first time being here, and I’m able to shoot a lot. But if I keep doing this, I will come off like a pervert.”
But he simultaneously expresses insight into the process of visiting a place for the first time, and the pitfalls that can emerge with virgin eyes, saying, “I am like a tourist now. Doing sightseeing. I have it comparatively easy because everything is new to me. But if I would be a native person, I would think much more about how I would photograph this city…For that reason it’s not deep enough now.”
And facing his subjects straight on helps create the tension he seeks in his photos. Suzuki says, “And when the subject and I are facing each other, the emotions of the subject come out. My intention is not to shock people. But there should always be some kind of tension. The photos I take should resonate with the viewer.”
In 2017, Suzuki founded Void Tokyo, a street photography zine and collective to “produce an extensive archive of Tokyo” with a focus on capturing “the ever changing society of Japan.” In an interview with Mirrored Society, Suzuki stressed the importance of using photography to document social change, “We think that the gentrification in Tokyo is just a public image. The gap between rich and poor is increasing more and more, there are accumulating problems such as working poor, death from overwork, physical abundance that never happens to be happy, etc. We believe that it is a great hope and task if we can photograph these social phenomena through street photography.”
Void Tokyo isn’t a random assemblage of untalented photographers. Their Instagram page shows the breadth and depth of their roster, and represents the diversity of aesthetics that defines contemporary street photography. Suzuki’s leadership and participation in the community of street photographers suggest a much more serious and thoughtful relationship with the medium than might be inferred from a promotional BTS video.
The term “cancel culture” has emerged into popular lexicon with both amusing and serious connotations. YouTube make-up star James Charles was “canceled” for promoting a rival brand. On a more serious note, celebrities like R. Kelly and Harvey Weinstein have been canceled for serial rape and sexual assault allegations.
In Suzuki’s case, there are no allegations of illegal conduct. He photographs people in public spaces. His photos are good, and sometimes great. His cancellation isn’t over his photos, but how he captures them. That isn’t to say that the process doesn’t matter, but any time we’re photographed in public, we cede our agency. I’m not convinced that his methodology is any less intrusive than a photographer using a telephoto lens without a subject’s knowledge.
Fujifilm has a broad and diverse audience, and has to protect their brand. Steering away from controversy is part of crisis management for any company. At the same time, caving to public pressure over an artistic process can stifle artistic expression and lead to mediocrity. One need look no farther than the Star Wars franchise – which have been increasingly influenced by fan culture – to understand how fear of the customer can yield bland and utterly predictable results.
Suzuki has commented that he hasn’t been arrested nor punched yet, implying that he expects it to happen at some point given his approach to street photography. So perhaps he is the least bit surprised by his quick dismissal. He will undoubtedly continue to take photos with his petulant, punk rock attitude towards conformity, perhaps clinging on into irrelevance. But as is the case with most controversy, Suzuki’s case isn’t black and white. He’s a three dimensional character working in a monochromatic, two dimensional world.