In 1960s Japan, when its society went through a radical change, the camera became a perfect tool for artists to explore their subjective experience of this new reality. Kohei Yoshiyuki’s The Park, a controversial series capturing shocking nocturnal scenes of people who gathered in several of Tokyo’s parks for intimate rendezvous and the many spectators who lurked in the bushes, perfectly illustrates the paradigm shift of the period that became one of the highest points of innovative camera work in the twentieth century. 

Recreation areas and relaxing family places during the day, three of Tokyo’s biggest parks would become completely different worlds in the darkness. While walking through one of them in the 1970s, Yoshiyuki came across several couples who used the park and the darkness around them for sexual encounters. Moreover, they were surrounded by many spectators lurking in the bushes who watched and sometimes attempted to join in these couplings. Fascinated by these happenings as a whole, he began cruising around Shinjuku Central Part, Yoyogi Park and Aoyama Park with an infrared strobe, capturing an entire underground scene that comes to life at night in a highly unsettling and haunting series. While working on this project, it was of the essence to make the voyeurs believe he was one of them.

Having a blurry, grainy and snapshot-like quality reminiscent of surveillance footage, Yoshiyuki’s images are raw, voyeuristic and uncomfortable. Rather than only depicting the couples, he took a step back and incorporated the bizarre dynamics between voyeurs and the subjects of their gaze. With observers of photographs becoming voyeurs themselves, the photographer sets out a complex dynamic of looking and being looked at.

These images reveal a hidden Tokyo where people are released from life’s constraints under the blanket of the night. Belonging to a specific moment in Japanese history, they reflect both the economic and social realities of the time, including a lack of privacy in the crowded urban environment. As Martin Parr wrote in The Photobook: A History, Volume II, the series is “a brilliant piece of social documentation, capturing perfectly the loneliness, sadness, and desperation that so often accompany sexual or human relationships in a big, hard metropolis like Tokyo.”

Highly controversial when they were first published in 1979, these images are today more relevant than ever, addressing universal issues of surveillance, voyeurism and privacy. This redesigned anniversary edition of The Park promises to engage a new audience that may be unfamiliar with the photographer’s work, but one that is far more accustomed to observing the private lives of others. This edition features eight never-before-seen images, as well as documentation of the sold-out 1980 Japanese publication, Document Koen [Document Park], that predated the 2007 Hatje Cantz/Yossi Milo edition.

Kohei Yoshiyuki’s The Park can be purchased from Yossi Milo Gallery for $60 in hardcover.

All photos by Kohei Yoshiyuki and featured in The Park. Credits in order from top to bottom: Untitled, 1973; Untitled, 1971; and Untitled 1973. © Kohei Yoshiyuki, Courtesy Yossi Milo Gallery, New York. 

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