OUR WEBSITES
English
Basket
article added
Proceed to checkout

ONE PHOTO – ONE STORY

20.05.2021

|
Share:
Roughly one thousand members of a syndicate spent three days celebrating the New Year, in a large hall at a spa hotel near Tokyo. The programme included teachings and moral edification, as well as a solemn ceremony as new members were admitted into the "family". Finally, after all the ceremonies had taken place, there was a feast – and this was the first time that women were allowed to put in an appearance, but only as geishas serving food and drink. “The biggest compliment was when, after the ceremonies, I was asked where I had been,” Venzago recalls. “To remain invisible, while being in the midst of the action, that is the secret.”

Pictures were taken, the likes of which the general public at the time had never seen before. In the eighties, Alberto Venzago and his Leica got closer to the Japanese Yakuza than any other photographer had managed, until then. He documented their meetings and their celebrations; and also took his camera into their private sphere, when they were bathing or being tattooed.  

From today's perspective, it is even more incredible that the photographer was able to gain this direct insight into the structure of a "family" at that time. He was able to manage it, thanks to his characteristic cheerful impudence and, above all, because he had gained their trust. “It took six months till I made my first contact, and a further six months were to pass before I took the first picture,” the photographer remembers. It took Venzago a total of five years and a lot of patience, but the outcome was one of his greatest reportages ever. As a foreigner, he enjoyed a certain advantage: the eye of an outsider, without too much knowledge concerning the actual authority and significance of the powerful syndicate structure. The Yakuza, Japan's mafia, had more that 100,000 members at the time, making it the largest criminal organisation in the world. It controlled drug and arms trafficking, prostitution and gambling; yet, it earned even more money in real estate transactions.

In the beginning, the 'guest' was under very close scrutiny, as the family tried to find out what interest the Swiss photographer might have in getting to know their gang structure. The more withdrawn Venzago remained, the greater the trust became; and the easier it was for him to finally capture the everyday life and rituals of the Yakuza. “My aim was to move around like a shadow,” the photographer explains. (Ulrich Rüter)

Picture: © Alberto Venzago

LFI 04/2021 presents a selection of Alberto Venzago's work.
A large exhibition of the photographer's work, titled Alberto Venzago. Taking Pictures – Making Pictures, opens at the Museum of Design in Zurich, on July 9, 2021.
© Peter Lindbergh

Alberto Venzago

was born in Zurich on February 10, 1950. After studying Remedial Education and Clarinet, he decided in his mid-twenties to become a self-taught photographer. He gained rapid success, moving effortlessly between photo-journalistic documentation, free artistic work, and advertising photography. He also works as a film director.

Website
Instagram
Share this page:
via mail Mail
STAY UP TO DATE WITH THE LFI NEWS CHANELS: GET THE LFI APP:
lfi
on facebook
lfi
newsletter
lfi
app
close