“The hustle and bustle of the city; the people who pass through; the places where different people come and go: these are the things that inspire me.”
Judge of The Independent Photographer’s 2022 Black and White Photography Award Tatsuo Suzuki is an award-winning Japanese photographer, whose visceral imagery extols the unique power of monochrome.
Expressive, atmospheric, and utterly captivating, Suzuki’s, stygian ‘street’ renderings are unmistakably the works of a Japanese denizen, evocations of the distinct visual parlance shaped by the great Daido Moriyama and his fellow members of the Provoke movement during the late 60s and 70s.
Suzuki was born in Tokyo, Japan in 1965, just as Takuma Nakahira and Yutaka Takanashi (Moriyama joined a short time later) were laying the foundations for what would become both a short-lived publication and more notably, (and significantly perennially) an artistic movement.
He reached adulthood as Provoke‘s influence was reaching its peak, yet he didn’t begin photographing seriously until 2008 when he captured a candid image on the streets of Enoshima (a small island just south of Tokyo) that made him realize it was this iteration of the medium that he wanted to pursue.
Aside from one year at photography school, he is completely self-taught and like his aforementioned compatriots, favors intuition and subjectivity over technical accuracy. Blending dynamic snapshots of quotidian life with ‘close-up’ portraits captured on the streets, his practice articulates his own distinct vision of the city: its unique complexities, idiosyncrasies, and spirit.
“I don’t often compose a shot and wait for the right moment to take it. The beauty of street photography is capturing an image that I can’t even imagine. I tend to release the shutter when my senses synchronize with the scene in the city. It’s mostly a matter of sensory perception.”
The influence of Moriyama, et al. is undeniable, but Suzuki’s claustrophobic framing and focus on physiognomy is, (at times) also reminiscent of iconic street photographers such as Bruce Gilden, whilst it’s iconic social 20th-century documentarian, Robert Frank, and rising English photographer, Jack Davison, both of whom he cites as his main photographic influences.
Though two stylistically and chronologically disparate practitioners, the oeuvre of both elucidates the value of achromatism (much like the work of our protagonist), whilst the bold vernacularism of the former, along with elements of Davison’s experimental, and at times, surreal visual language, can also be discerned in Suzuki’s work.
“I like the world of black and white photography, in it, the presence of the subject is stronger, and black and white photography requires more imagination because the real world is in color.”
Since that epiphanic moment some fourteen years ago, Suzuki has built a budding reputation within photographic circles. He has garnered numerous awards and accolades and exhibited internationally on several occasions, including at Photo Shanghai in 2015 and London in 2016. In 2020, Friction / Tokyo Street, an extensive collection of his street photography, was published by Steidl.
He now lives in Yokohama, on the fringes of the Japanese capital, where he continues to capture the brooding intensity of the city in those same monochromatic hues that his eminent forebears deemed so felicitous. His captivating oeuvre conveys his unique artistic sensibility and stands as a testament to the profound potential of black and white photography.
All images © Tatsuo Suzuki