The Secrets Behind PBN 2010 Winner Anton Kusters’ Winning Book

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893 Yakuza 2 by Anton Kusters The Secrets Behind PBN 2010 Winner Anton Kusters Winning Book

The entries are rolling in for the Photography Book Now 2011 competition, and we thought we’d offer up a little inspiration.

2010’s Editorial Book winner Anton Kusters is hard at work on issue #2 of 893 Magazine, his fascinating look into the hidden world of Japan’s Yakuza mob. (Check out a potential cover design above.)

Anton took time out of his busy schedule to talk to us about his subject (the world’s largest organized crime group), his process, and his work in progress.

Blurb: How did you choose the Yakuza as your subject?

Anton Kusters: It was actually kind of effortless. My brother and I were in a bar in Tokyo when a Yakuza guy walked past in the street – and we thought: “Hey, what if we tried to photograph the Yakuza? Our fixer, bar owner Taka-san, proposed that we meet with a friend of his who is a Yakuza member – and warned us about taking things very seriously if we really wanted to go ahead with the project.


Blurb: How did you choose the photographs for the first 893 Magazine?

Anton Kusters: My edits are always very different depending on the purpose: for the screen, for a slideshow, for a website, for text, for the magazine, for the book. For the magazine edit I proof-printed many images, hung them on the walls of my studio, and over the course of several weeks let the images sink in, often changing the sequence. After that, I started on the book design. I hung the spreads up on the wall, then held a dummy in my hands, tore things up again, then repeated until the mix of being sick of it and being finally happy to “get” it won me over and I pushed the button to publish the book.

Blurb: Will you go back and make more photographs of the Yakuza for 893 Magazine Issue #2?

Anton Kusters: Photography on the Yakuza story is nearing completion. 2011 will most probably be the last year that I can photograph, as per our agreement with the Yakuza. But new things are happening that could add more dimensions to the story.

Blurb: What design sensibilities informed your work?

Anton Kusters: I have a stack of inspirational books and movies in my studio – and a massive load of images and links and screenshots on my computer. The magazine is built up as a design of what is happening in my mind, and then tailored towards what is physically possible with a print-on-demand book.

Blurb: How will you sequence 893 Magazine Issue #2?

Anton Kusters: This is definitely not a journalistic or researched story. It is a personal story. My brother and I have no plan for sequencing, other than in a diary-like fashion. This story does not have a classic beginning, middle, and end. The Yakuza have been part of Japanese culture long before we arrived, and will be part of Japanese culture long after we are gone. They are rooted in Japan in ways that we as Westerners will never understand.

Blurb: How did you approach the writing?

Anton Kusters: The photographs alone are too limited to tell the story I want to tell, which is one of subtleties and many shades of gray. And I know I didn’t pick the easiest culture on the planet to show emotions and deep thoughts, thinking about life, good and bad, black and white. I write as much as possible as soon as I can after each shoot, even if I only have time to scribble some words so I can remember and elaborate later.


Blurb: Were you limited by the need for confidentiality as you told your story?

Anton Kusters: We agreed to a “two thumbs up” approach. I can make any pictures I want, and then I propose to the Yakuza a broad selection for possible publication. Images that I do not put in front of them remain confidential. They can veto any image I propose to them, BUT at the same time, I could also veto any image they would want to push forward. So far, not one single edit or image has ever been vetoed. At regular intervals, I make one-off Blurb books of my vision up to that point in time, and present it to the Yakuza to keep them up to date.

Blurb: What was your experience using the Blurb PDF to Book workflow?

Anton Kusters: I have experience designing books and working with printers, so I found it crucial to be able to use Adobe® InDesign® to make my book. And it couldn’t be easier to export a properly formatted PDF, preflight it, and then upload it to the Blurb PDF to Book workflow. It’s fast, flawless, and efficient. I wouldn’t want it any other way.

A big thanks to Anton for his time. We hope this inspires Blurbarians the world over to check out Photography Book Now 2011 – and maybe even enter for a shot at some great prizes.

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