Street photography scandal: can you do this?

Tatsuo Suzuki taking photos

Tatsuo Suzuki taking photos

The obtrusive working style of a Japanese street photographer stirred big debate after he appeared in a Fuji commercial. The company dropped both the ad and the photographer they used to sponsor. This is an important story with wide-scale aspects of professionalism, legal issues and ethics: can you put you push the camera up in others’ faces and without consequences?

Many others (PetaPixel, Pixinfo, DPreview, Fstoppers, DIY photography, Fuji Rumors, BoredPanda, Urban Player, etc.) wrote about the current scandal before I did. Fuji had Japanese street photographer Tatsuo Suzuki in it’s X Photographer program. They sponsored him, used him in their commercial. Then after the backlash of the commercial made about him and his working style they quickly dropped not only the advertising video but also the financial support of him. This (back)step of theirs made some of the street photographers just as angry as the behaviour of the photographer makes others.

The commercial that started all this debate was removed from the web as the first move. And in many other rounds again and again since then as they delete it from somewhere and it gets uploaded to a different place (I don’t promise I can keep the link updated forever). Suzuki’s profile was cleared on the company’s partner page. It seems Fuji spent much more efforts on covering up the tracks of their mistakes leading to this scandal than to set things clear. Meanwhile, there has been no official communication, reaction or any other statement on part o the company. They seem to pretend nothing ever happened and sit tight until the dust settles. (Crisis communication books of the past century suggest not to behave like this when you are caught red-handed in such a situation, but history will tell if Fuji manages to get away with it in the 21st century socially boosted media space.)

The YouTube channel Photography Conspiracy entertaining(?) by repackaging photography topics into cynical humour also gave the story another spin in their own style. You can watch it here:

Thankfully there are other video recordings of the photographer during work on the web. In the video below he also tells he knows it is banned to take photos like this in Germany, but he doesn’t care at all about it, just plays the tourist – what he is actually:

A group of Hungarian street photographers made a public stance in support of the photographer dropped by his sponsor (you can read their statement in full at the end of the post). They think the methods of the photographer can be questioned but they think it is a hypocritic overreaction “in a world where CCTV-s watch us on every corner, each website we open collects and forwards our data, we are tracked by GPS applications and our social media surfaces report about us to others.” They ask the question “how much trauma these people were caused when they had to move two steps aside on the street? How many of the publicly outcrying people have a public Instagram feed?” They also envision a scary future claiming to limit street photography will make documentaries of the present go disappear, more so not even allowing them to be made. As they write “Imagine a past without images erased from all the newspapers, every family albums, from all the museums, where people are visible who don’t want to permit their picture recorded. Let’s have a look with our eyes of souls at the canvases on the museum walls with vanishing pictures. The past doesn’t exist without pictures, just like the future doesn’t either.”

Among the commenters, there are some who say despite not liking to be photographed by anyone, yet they would forgive these methods if the results are like those of Suzuki’s.
Even that question has a point that asks how much more ethical is it to take unobtrusive candid photos from a distance without the subject ever noticing their photos being taken, but the meanwhile denying their possibility to object or even be informed about this. In contrast, however strange and disturbing Suzuki’s method may be he at least undertakes and makes it obvious what he does and offers the subjects a chance to confront him about it or just ask him to delete.

On the other side of this debate however, there is a large group of a growing number of photo subjects, pedestrians and other photographers who reject taking photos this way obstructing people. Many photographers also think such behaviour can leave a mark on the reputation of every other photographer regardless if they do or not behave in this way. A fading reputation can put all photographers in a bad light. Many think such photographers disregarding the interest of others are just heating up such debates that lead to a tightening in regulations. Despite in the US and many other places, there is a much lighter approach to people’s privacy and they may allow more room for the photographer’s self-expression. Similar disputes regularly heat up the discussions about tightening the regulations and cutting back of photographer’s freedom.

Ministry about photography law rumors
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Regulations in Hungary are basically stricter. This in itself can greatly make it harder or even prevent taking photos, especially in genres like street photography. These demoralising stories can, however, emphasize the already existing suspicion of people in the general public. They can easily lead to pointing to the already strict regulations or it can even make people ask for more tightening the regulations.

I wrote on my blog quite often (at the moment most of these writings are only available in Hungarian at the moment, but I did publish the official English translation of the new Hungarian Civil Law regulating photographing people as well as as the statement of ministry about the changes) about the regulation of taking photos in public, what a debate it caused when Hungarian Civil Law was updated, and about the controversy between interests of photographers and their subjects (especially in Hungary) in regards their personal rights. This debate further increased since the EU introduced their personal data protection act GDPR and privacy and data protection rights got into the spotlight of the attention. Under these circumstances, some people start to be “rights aware” when they have no reason to do so (some times even companies and government institutes do so too when no reason – not to mention cases when they should be much more careful with their data handling yet they don’t meet the very basic minimum requirements in their data handling)…

I personally had some experience (well before GDPR was introduced) some people complaining  “Don’t F… photograph me!” who not only wasn’t on my pictures, but I was turning my (and my camera’s) back to them. Yet the facts did not convince them, because they knew better.

This type of provocative photography done by Suzuki, pushing the camera into the face of unexpected pedestrians or even uses a light source to flash them in the face is not a new thing at all. Suzuki is far from being the only street photographer doing it. Not even the only one who got media interest provoking criticism. This method is long known among photographers and it is long-time debated by both photographers and other people. Many disputes have centred around where lie the boundaries of correct behaviour and decency opposed to obstructing, annoying or even harassing people. megzavarásának határai. US street photographer Bruce Gilden’s work is a common topic in this discussion. As you can see on the video below he works  in an even more confrontational style than the Japanese colleague – he not only passes by the subjects, but he even engages in discussions or even fights with them:

Street photographer was beaten up
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Photo by Math Roberts

Among other factors, the provocation also often comes into question in debates about issues with photographers. Especially when photographers are attacked or beaten. On various forums and in comments many people  (some times even photographers too) often claim “such behaviour asks for being beaten”, “I would hit him even harder”. This is a clear overstatement and blaming the victim is never a good approach and taking justice into your own hands is definitely illegal. However wilful provocating others makes confrontation and bad reactions from others less surprising. Just like people need to bear and endure being photographed even if they don’t always like it, photographers also need to learn how to live and use their cameras without hurting others’ feelings. Just because you are able to do something with your camera it is not mandatory to do it. Temperance is an important virtue.

What do you think about the street photographers pushing the limits and their camera into others’ faces and the uproar the Fuji commercial caused?

As I still could not resolve the issues with the commenting system (but I’m working on it), you can leave your comments on the Facebook page of the blog. Please tell your thoughts!

Statement of the BPSC Hungarian street photography community:

Stance by Tatsuo Suzuki

Many articles appearedd in the international online press about Fuji not standing with its previously supportedd street photographer Tatsuo Suzuki after a backlash surfacedd questioning his working methods. Fuji deleted the video and even it came up to remove him from their X Photographer program.

We cannot walk past by silently this scandadl. Without releasing all our passion related to this story, as a collective, as solo artists and as private people we stand by the graet artist, Tatsuo Suzuki.

We don’t call him spineless, blinkered, money-seeker, lame Fuji. We say this is self-deception. It is self-deception to gibbet artists, speak defamatory of them, spit on their work, because they photograph the people of the streets. It is self-deception in a world where CCTV-s watch us on every corner, each website we open collects and forwards our data, we are tracked by GPS applications and our social media surfaces report about us to others.

We do not dispiute it is offensive or provocative to photograph people in a way Suzuki (Gilden, etc, we could keep on listing) do it. We do not tell the people on the streets couldn’t ask the photographer to delete their photos if they don’t like them. But it is a gigantic mistake many don’t see that these artworks are valuable. It is documentation of our times. It is a reflection to our present and future. Watching it from the future they are mandatory to be able to interpret and process the past.

Fujifilm made a mistake. They kicked into street photography. They gave place, opportunity and chance to talk about this topic who are unable to think about this problem in a complex way.
It saddens us how many of the people criticising the video and Suzuki are photographers themselves. We cannot even tell to or about them anything. We dissociate ourselves.

Imagine a past without images erased from all the newspapers, every family albums, from all the museums, where people are visible who don’t want to permit their picture recorded. Let’s have a look with our eyes of souls at the canvases on the museum walls with vanishing pictures. The past doesn’t exist without pictures, just like the future doesn’t either.

We understand not everyone thinks street photography should be banned totally in general, only the aforementioned photographers’ “too aggressive” style is dedbated. We ask how much trauma these people had when they had to make two steps aside on the street? How many of these upset people have a public Instagram?

We cannot find the words to describe how some twistedd political correctness it is the working methods of these photographers, the style they symbolise is labeled to be a freak of the past even by the photogaphy press! Some even consider the artists defining the visual culture of our times to be on the same level as the evil misdeedsd of malicious, inclined psychopats.

7th February 2020. Budapest

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