About the Photographer
Japanese, b. 1946
In his series The Park, Kohei Yoshiyuki photographed at night in three Tokyo parks in the 1970s, catching both heterosexual and homosexual couples in sexual acts. However, the clandestine lovers are not alone: in most of these images groups of voyeurs, or "peepers," lurk about the scene and sometimes even physically enter the fray. Whether these invasions were entirely unexpected, fully anticipated, or simply predatory, is never exactly clear. Shot with infrared film and an electronic flash with a special filter, Yoshiyuki was largely concealed in the darkness as he photographed. The resulting photographs are grainy, raw, and reminiscent of surveillance footage, while exuding a sense of invasiveness largely absent in such imagery. Unlike surveillance photography, the viewpoint is too close and the images have a bright, seared quality from the sudden burst of light and the infrared film. The Park images belong to a specific moment in Japanese history, reflecting the economic and social realities of 1970s Tokyo, including a lack of privacy in the crowded urban environment. Yet the series still resounds with topics widely relevant today, such as voyeurism, surveillance, and privacy.
Yoshiyuki worked with a long history of photographers operating covertly and capturing transgressive behavior before him. Brassaï's series Paris by Night (Paris de Nuit) in the 1930s serves as a well-known example, in which he photographed prostitutes in Paris at night. Walker Evans photographed subway riders in the late 1930s, using furtive strategies such as decoy lenses and concealed cameras. A close forebear to Yoshiyuki is Weegee, most famous for his photographs of crimes scenes in the 1930s and 1940s, who also used infrared flash and film in movie theaters to photograph unsuspecting viewers and amorous couples.
First published as a book in Japan in 1980 under the title Document Park, the series was republished by Hatje Cantz in 2007. Before its re-presentation in 2007, The Park was last exhibited in 1979 at the Komai Gallery in Tokyo, in which the photographs were printed at life size and exhibited in a darkened gallery. Visitors were given flashlights to view the work, thus inviting them to engage in a similar form of voyeuristic "peeping." Interest in the work renewed when it was included in The Photobook: A History–Volume 2 by Martin Parr in 2006. Subsequently the Yossi Milo Gallery in New York contacted Yoshiyuki, who agreed to reprint many of the images.
Kohei Yoshiyuki was born in Hiroshima Prefecture, Japan, in 1946. Since 2007 The Park has been exhibited internationally in Europe and North America and is held in the collections of the Brooklyn Museum, NY; Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY; Museum of Modern Art, NY; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh; and Swedish Art Council, Stockholm.