Does Holding a Fuji Camera Give You a License to Be Obnoxious?

Does Holding a Fuji Camera Give You a License to Be Obnoxious?

A strong critical reaction has led to Fujifilm pulling an advertisement that highlighted the work of photographer Tatsuo Suzuki. It seems that holding an expensive camera is not a license for an obnoxious and provocative style of street photography.

Fuji Rumors reports that Fujifilm published the seven-minute video as part of a series of short films promoting the launch of the new X100V. Entitled “My Milestone,” the video documented the work and methods of Suzuki, a street photographer who shoots with an intrusive, almost aggressive style. In the video — deleted by Fuji but since re-uploaded elsewhere — Suzuki is shown blocking the path of pedestrians, prompting people to turn away or even cover their faces.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wy2YzUvHDq0

The original video was deleted by Fuji but since re-uploaded to YouTube. A copyright claim from Fuji may see this version removed at any time.

This style of shooting is reminiscent of photographer and self-confessed provocateur Bruce Gilden who established a reputation for in-your-face flash photography. “I have no ethics,” says Gilden, proud of his supposed bravery for the proximity of his images, essentially explaining that he is so arrogant that he doesn’t care.

Suzuki lacks the flash but not the antagonism. As he explains in the video, his intrusion of space creates tension by breaking into a person’s private space. He is fully aware that his behavior is offensive, but of course, the photographs make it justifiable.

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Shibuya,Tokyo

A post shared by Tatsuo Suzuki / 鈴木 達朗 (@tatsuo_suzuki_001) on

In a recent article, I asked how this behavior would be judged if the likes of Gilden and Dougie Wallace were not holding a camera, but instead simply confronting people at random in the street. Why does this revered, expensive, magical box vindicate this manner of acting in public? Why are the resulting images so revered by the art world, pouring praise on a photographer for “pushing boundaries” and “creating insights,” when every photograph says a lot more about the photographer’s ego than it does about the reality of life on the street?

Screengrab of Suzuki in action from My Milestone.

Screengrab of Suzuki in action from "My Milestone."

The concept — elevated by the likes of Magnum and the art world in general — of the photographer as a big game hunter, a heroic, often hyper-masculine figure who bravely sets out into the world to deploy his mastery over technology to create art is one that has become tired. The online reaction to Suzuki’s work is an indication that audiences are starting to see beyond the surface of the resulting images and into the arrogant, ego-driven unpleasantness that goes into their creation. Social media has helped to undermine their heroism, revealing the nastiness, vanity, and smugness that the galleries and books fail to convey.

The convenience for the obnoxious street photographer is that the image is a snapshot of a moment caught just before the unwitting subject reacts to this invasion. Photographs are typically that moment of confusion before realization, annoyance, and intimidation kick in and subjects are rendered helpless. The moment the photographer wanted is complete, ripped away from the consequences that the photograph so conveniently ignores and overlooks. The image is taken (in both senses), the photographer’s braggadocio is bolstered, the resulting image is more important than the process. The ends justify the means, and the photographer’s expression of power is complete.

Until now. What was once deemed heroic is now seen as pathetic. The photographer’s ego is revealed and found vile. An unpleasant taste sours every image, as though the overblown ego is a sepia tone that washes every single photograph.

Fuji’s blindness to this was surprising, and the reaction is entirely justified. Intrusive street photography is a power trip that belongs in the past.

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166 Comments

Previous comments

What goes around comes around.

I'm really confused at some of the opinions and attitudes people are expressing here. Just about all candid street photography is invasive. It's just a matter of degree. I do agree that Tatsuo is going a little too far with the way he's doing it, but I wouldn't know where to draw the line between what he's doing and what some of the other commenters judge as being acceptable.

I seem to be hearing here that candid street photography is only ok if they don't know you're taking their photo and if you don't use a speedlight.

That's a massively broad brush and even runs counter to my experiences doing street photography. I tend to encounter more aggressive people when I take photographs from a distance. When I started shooting closer and with a speedlight, I've actually had fewer incidents.

Shooting close with a speedlight doesn't make me Bruce Gilden though. I mostly remain stationary in the same spot where it's easy for people to see me. Besides giving me better lighting, the speedlight also makes it easier for people to see there's a photographer up ahead and avoid me if they wish. It also will attract the occasional person who does want their photo taken.

A lot of the stuff I shoot goes online and is regularly discovered by the people in the photos. I don't think what I'm doing is distressing to most people because I rarely get nasty comments and some of the nasty comments I've received came from people who never saw me because I wasn't near them.

Then again, maybe I'm an a-hole and I just haven't realized it. I'm not saying that in a snarky way. Hearing all the comments makes me question if I'm only choosing to remember the positive experiences I've had shooting this way and am simply ignoring evidence that there are a lot of people who'd love to throw a rock at me if they could get away with it.

Krzysztof Kurzaj's picture

Jeff, I agree 100% with your note how Fuji dropped their artist in a blink of an eye just to save their skin. They were clearly aiming for some non-conformism while picking artists for their promo ad and when the idea backfired they just used the photog as a scapegoat. Fuji not only communicated in this manner they have no business ethics but they also sent a message out there that reads "we don't actually endorse any artists that use our products; we just use them when it's convenient for us."

And when it comes to the artist himself, yeah his style is pretty aggressive/invasive but in all honesty it's nothing beyond being a bit of a jerk. It's not even about taking pictures but how he blocks people's path quite often. Which is exactly what every damn tourist in NYC is doing on a daily basis.

I don't approve of his way of shooting, but once Fuji used him for their camera promotion, they should have found a more graceful exit than to just pull the video and without explanation. They should have issued some diplomatic statement like: "Fujifilm does not necessarily endorse this style of photography, but makes cameras that suit many styles of photography and supports artists with expressive tools for creative work ..."

Fuji just treated him as he treats his subjects.

Um ... no. This type of video typically involves a contract, planning, a recorded interview, etc. The photographer probably committed a good deal of his time to making the video with Fuji's video crew or video contractors. The intended result is a product promotion, not photography as art. So the whole thing is different.

I see your point. They probably paid him handsomely as well.

"The chose him, filmed this project with him, and published it while consciously knowing who he was, and how he worked." In other words they treated him the same way he treats his subjects.

Rob Davis's picture

Not anymore than holding a Leica which has featured people like Bruce Gilden.

Unpopular opinion but the majority of street photography is sketchy at best.

I know public space legal blah blah blah but shoving a camera in someone’s face is asking for a beating.

Daniel Medley's picture

And dishing out a beating is asking for a prison sentence.

Or a beat-down of your own.

Ryan Ringstad's picture

Easily justifiable as self defense.

Don't want to get your ass kicked don't go jumping into peoples personal space and shoving objects in their face.

Daniel Medley's picture

So, kicking someone's ass for sticking a camera in your face is easily justifiable self defense where you live? Not even in Texas is it considered legally justifiable.

Michael Holst's picture

Without more context it can go either way.

"for sticking a camera in your face"

It doesn't start or end there. If someone makes purposeful move to jump in front of you and you aren't expecting it while at the same time holding something (being shoved into your face) that you might not be able to clearly see, it could be argued that a reaction of physical self defense is justified.

An all out beat-down might be a bit of an exaggeration but defending yourself can mean throwing a couple kicks or punches at even a minimum.

What if he did this to your child and you couldn't see what he was shoving in their face because it's happening so quickly? In the video he's singling our people in a predatory way. It's fast but it's obviously deliberate.

Daniel Medley's picture

"Without more context it can go either way."

No, not really. I don't know the laws of many states, but I do know the law in my state which is pretty lenient when it comes to self defense. In fact in my state you can legally kill someone if you can show that you reasonably feared for your life. Someone taking a photograph of you would not meet that threshold.

It wouldn't meet the threshold for legal self defense either.

In fact I could shove a camera in someone's face, they could freak out and attack me. If they're beating me badly enough (doubtful) I could shoot them dead and have a far better chance of being legally justified for killing them than they would have for attacking me.

The moral of the story is that whether we like the idea of someone shoving a camera in our face or not, let's get the stupid notion out of our heads that we would "kick anyone's ass" for taking a freaking picture.

Violence should be so far down the list of possible reactions that I can't even believe that people throw it out there.

Iain Stanley's picture

Ha! I take it you’ve never been to Japan, or have an understanding of Japanese law. This ain’t America....

Krzysztof Kurzaj's picture

Please elaborate and enlighten us all. I have no doubt your knowledge of Japanese law is better than mine (which is none) but leaving an empty comment as you did above is just wasting time of every person that's reading it. Thanks in advance.

Is a surprised-faced close-up of a random stranger on the street good photography? I guess if it is black-and-white, then it is art or something.

Yep, didn't understand those pictures. They are very ordinary ones, maybe black & white is the key

Well, in 2014 is was considered noteworthy by this very website:

https://fstoppers.com/documentary/tokyo-black-and-white-street-photograp...

and most comments on this article I would describe as extremely positive in response to his work.

I am not being negative or criticising the guy, just saying it's normal images, nothing striking. There are some street photographers who produce compelling images that makes you wanna pause for a bit and give 'huh'.

Maybe there are, in his portfolio which I could have overlooked.

Not a fan. I'm all for documenting time and place, but intentionally causing other people discomfort for your own amusement (that's pretty much all your "art" is) by sticking your camera in their face is a rather selfish endeavor and I don't see what it actually contributes to the documentation of the human condition. Of course there will be those that disagree and they are certainly entitled to their opinion.

Jeff Walsh's picture

I disagree, but also completely understand where you're coming from. It is in fact a personal choice to behave the way he does. I would'nt ever behave the way he does. I don't like to make people feel uncomfortable. But Suzuki doesn't mind it, clearly. For whatever reason, he's also chosen to pursue photographing people in these moments of uncomfortability as an expression of his creative side. Again, I would not do this, in this way. My problem with this whole thing, Fuji created this mess for Suzuki and then abandoned him.

For me, that is the much larger problem, because if they had simply kept the video up, and stated that they understand people don't appreciate, or condone his methods, he is still a very well known street photographer and they chose to partner with him. That in the future they will be more mindful of how they present the creatives they work with, and also how the creatives affect the people around them. Then it's over and our outrage culture has very little meat on the bone to pick at.

"he's also chosen to pursue photographing people in these moments of uncomfortability as an expression of his creative side"

That's hardly a step above those "it's just a prank, bro!" assholes imo. If your creative side involves making people uncomfortable, you're just an asshole who uses "art" as an excuse to be an asshole.

Jeff Walsh's picture

I've watched movies that made me uncomfortable. Did that mean every single actor, director, makeup hand hair, and the thousand other people involved are all assholes? Spoiler: no. Being uncomfortable isn't the end of the world

You are comparing two different mediums with two different motives. Movies are entertainment. If a movie made you uncomfortable, there was probably a point it was trying to make. An example off the top of my head would be Requiem for a Dream. It made most people who've seen it uncomfortable, but there was a point to it. It had a message. Also you watch those movies of your own volition. You're free to stop watching at any time.

What message does Suzuki bring with his photography? That people get annoyed when somebody gets in their way and sticks a camera in their face?

What are you dense? That's movie. You have a choice to go and see it. What choice do these people have when he jumps in their face with whatever camera? How are you justify this? Also how do we know he gets off on this like masturbation?

I doubt the people defending this idiot know what creativity is. It seems more like they confuse it with narcissism.

> Fuji created this mess for Suzuki and then abandoned him.

If Suzuki isn't willing to stand by his actions, he shouldn't commit them. That simple. Your attitude is simply cowardly.

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