Anton Corbijn on Kohei Yoshiyuki’s ‘The Park’ series 1971–9

“The images are far more erotic than most porno photographs…”


By Anton Corbijn, for Tate, May 2010

I had not been aware of Kohei Yoshiyuki’s work until I saw a review of his series The Park about two years ago, which was accompanied by a photograph that caught my eye immediately. The infrared grittiness appealed to me, but also the image of people’s backs in a leafy environment in darkness. It seemed that the picture was that of a documentary photographer, but I couldn’t tell straightaway what was being documented. It was an odd image; what did it show? A frozen tension perhaps. I even felt that it had something forbidden about it, something I understood only after reading the review. This revealed that in the 1970s the photographer discovered that couples used parks in Tokyo to make out and that this was known to some men who loved to observe the intimate situations from close range – sometimes close enough to touch the couple. Kohei had used infrared flashbulbs so as not to disturb the scenes in front of him, making the photographs incredibly realistic and thus quite unsettling to view.



From the series ‘The Park’, Courtesy Yossi Milo Gallery, New York © Kohei Yoskiyuki

“There is something left to discover, something not shown…”

For starters, the images are far more erotic than most porno photographs, feeding through an (unfulfilled) desire to discover details about other people’s sex lives. There is something left to discover, something not shown, which is rare these days where everything is being documented and mystery has all but disappeared. But that is not the real essence of Kohei’s pictures. They deal more with voyeurism than with sex, and that topic makes them so incredibly interesting for us viewers, as we are voyeurs too. Though we are not in the photographs, we are right behind these people, trying to watch over their shoulders. The voyeurs are captured, but in a way so are we. Perhaps that is the eternal position of a photographer?



(All rights reserved. Text @ Anton Corbijn. Images courtesy Yossi Milo Gallery, New York © Kohei Yoskiyuki)

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