Friday, September 7, 2007

The Park by Kohei Yoshiyuki

The new exhibition season has opened and one show that I highly recommend is Kohei Yoshiyuki’s exhibition The Park at Yossi Milo which is on view until October 20. This work was the subject of Kohei’s book Document Kouen (Document Park) published by Seven Sha, Tokyo in 1980. Lucky for us, there is a new book of this work just published by Hatje Cantz called The Park.

In the early seventies, Kohei prowled around parks in Tokyo looking for lovers groping in the bushes. The Shinjuku, Yoyogi and Aoyama parks were notorious meeting grounds for nightly public rendezvous and disturbingly, they were also very popular with “peepers;” men who go specifically to watch the action.

By using an infrared film and an infrared filter over his flashgun, Kohei was able to somewhat freely photograph without anyone knowing what he was doing. His descriptions have the effect of exposing whole tableaus of figures and detail that could only have been sensed in the darkness of the unlit park.

His book is divided into three sections. The first dwells on heterosexual encounters, the second on homosexual trolling and hook ups and the last section is comprised of abstract images shot from video monitors in “love hotels.”

The first section on men and women is the least explicit in that it seems most encounters (at least in the photos) is limited to kissing and heavy petting. The disturbing and somewhat sad aspect comes from the “peepers.” Many of Kohei’s photos show a couple going about their business while a crowd of six or seven men hang about, half hiding behind the trees and bushes; some caught fumbling with their pants zippers. “Observing” might be considered bothersome enough but at times, the “peepers” move in to take advantage of a grope amongst the tangled legs and arms of the couple. In his introduction, Vince Aletti humorously finds them comparable at times to wrestling referees. A perfect comparison as they are often weirdly down on all fours, head cocked like they are looking for an illegal hold.

The second section that describes men on men is mostly pairings of men engaged in what seems to be a less foliated part of the park. The trysts are more out in the open and explicit. One of the best images describes a perfect choreography of men waiting by trees while passersby look for partners. The body language of most of the men seems so matter of fact that they wind up looking like they are waiting for a bus rather than seeking out sexual release.

The last section of grainy video stills from love hotels is oddly the most explicit but most unrevealing. The extreme grain, or more specifically, the graininess of the TV pattern, obscures to the point of only basic legibility. With the history of social taboos towards sex, these seem to comment on the nature of censorship in Japan. In fact, actual nudity even in any of these images is almost never seen if only in fleeting glimpses of thigh.

Yoshiyuki, with all of the limitations of working with the tools he used and in the environment he photographed, made a great set of images that do not just ring the same note repeatedly. His ability to see and compose before to flash was tripped seems miraculous enough. The frames are well constructed and vary throughout the book so that our interest, beyond the subject matter, is held from cover to cover.

The book follows the format ratio of the 35mm frame and the printing looks great. The design by Stapelberg & Fritz in Stuttgart is compelling, clean and respects the work. Many of the non-photo pages are printed black so be careful as the natural oils from you hands leave marks. The photos are reproduced either bleed or surrounded with white borders. The edition is approximately 4500 copies.

There are many differences between the original edition and this one and they have a completely different feel from one another. The original edition was a vertical format book and some of the images are reproduced (in nice gravure) as spreads across the gutter, which between the two pages, equals the 35mm frame ratio. The other images that are reproduced one to a page are printed cropped into a ratio closer to a 6 by 7 frame ratio, thus cropping off about one quarter of each image. The new edition reproduces the images full 35mm ratio. The original also has identity protecting black bars over the eyes of the people whose faces can be seen.

This presentation includes 69 photographs and the 1980 edition held 78 according to Volume II of the Parr and Badger history books. The reason for some of the images not appearing in the new edition is not due to editing but apparently due to several of the original negatives from the series have been lost which made their inclusion impossible. This is a real shame because upon seeing which images were lost there were at least two from the original edition that I think are really great. One that may be lost forever is of a man and woman necking while somehow, the man’s wallet appears, not in his pocket as would be expected, but lying balanced on his hip. The original edition also starts the third section with an image of a couple on the street entering one of the “love hotels.” That section of video stills is also ended with a final shot of a TV screen that is entirely blank with static TV “snow.”

Yossi Milo penned an introduction that tells of how he became aware of the work and Vince Aletti contributes a wonderful essay called Night Vision. Also included is an interview between Nobuyoshi Araki and Kohei Yoshiyuki called Tiptoeing into the Darkness…with Love from a 1979 issue of Weekend Super which is almost worth the price of admission alone.

For those interested in getting an advance copy of The Park, the Yossi Milo Gallery has a very limited amount of copies (about 60-70 left) that are signed by Kohei Yoshiyuki. The Park will not officially hit the stores until next month.

This book will surely be in my top five favorites for the year, so thank you to Yossi Milo for taking the reigns and getting this work republished. This allows a new generation of viewers (peepers?) to experience work from this photographer who seems as elusive as the subjects he once described.

An additional thank you to Yossi Milo for allowing me to view the original 1980 edition of Document Kouen for comparison.

Book Available Here (The Park)

Buy online at Hatje Cantz


Anonymous said...


I thought you might like to know that there have been 5 different printings of "The Park" or it's material and a video tape in Japan.
Also that Kohei Yoshiyuki is not the photographer real name, just the name he use for the project. He thought he might get in trouble.
The original is indeed a great book. I haven't seen the new edition, but I just ordered one from Milo. Thanks for the heads up on the signed copies.


Anonymous said...


Thanks for that clarification.

And now I feel kind of dumb because YOU featured them in your essay on Japanese photo books in the Daiter book FROM FAIR TO FINE. I forgot about that.

The edition that Yossi has is the Seven Sha from 1980. Are they essentially the same with # of photos etc just different layouts and formats?

Anonymous said...


I think I was the one that first found this and got one for Martin. My Japanese friend warned me when I bought my first copy ( $12 ) that it was not a considered and honorable book in Japan.
But the books are all different. Three of them feature, what appears to be instructions as to how to take pictures at night with infra-red, and some beach picture, also at night. And one is an expanded selection in the same format with a red cover, and lacks Araki's afterword.

Keep an eye out , for a package of "review copies" from Loosestrife in the next few weeks. You deserve something free for all the work on this great blog.


jennifer said...

yes! this show is such an auspicious beginning to the new season. (and the book is so beautifully done).

Anonymous said...

Daiter book FROM FAIR TO FINE.

-- Please give full details on this work.

Three of them feature, what appears to be instructions as to how to take pictures at night with infra-red,

-- I am assuming that the new edition doesn't contain this section -- can anyone make it available on the web?

Anonymous said...

Dear anonymous,

I afraid it is all in Japanese, which I don't speak. I just got this from the fact that some of the editions feature photos of equipment.


Anonymous said...


The book FROM FAIR TO FINE was discussed under my posting called 5 Catalogs From Stephen Daiter here:

Anonymous said...


Thanks in advance for the "review copies" from Loosestrife.


Anonymous said...

Can the object of this quote elaborate a bit on this, please?

John Gossage writes about his revelation towards books due to Japanese publications



Anonymous said...

I do ?

Anonymous said...

This is getting really confusing.

First, Gossage states that there is some "how to" info. on shooting IR film in some versions of the book, and then he comes back and says he cannot verify this but states it on the basis that he saw some "photos of equipment".

then i follow the link pasted in by mr. ladd which reads:
As you have probably read, I have a problem with the commerce aspect of photography books and this is certainly a title aimed at selling or enticing sales of the books on exhibit. I love these types of books on books though. What is refreshing is that in the introductory essay, Stephen Daiter acknowledges the current market and how certain people who have had a long passion towards photobooks have been “priced out” of the market on certain titles. Paul D’Amato penned a good essay about the social documentary traditions. John Gossage writes about his revelation towards books due to Japanese publications, and AnneDorothee Bohme writes about the photographic narrative in artist books.

and mr. gossage responds "I do?"

something is wrong, somewhere.

Anonymous said...


Don't get frustrated...this seemed like one of those internet miscommunications.
I'm not sure what your original question was.
Why was seeing what the Japanese photographers were doing with books a "revelation" to Mr. Gossage?(that's my word attributed to the reaction Mr. Gossage describes in his essay). Simply that, as he describes in his essay, "highly designed and magnificently produced, they (japanese photobooks)took individual photographs I cared little about and transformed them into intense objects and major artistic achievements." Can't get much clearer than that. Hope that answers your inquiry.

One Way Street said...

This brings to mind some other book titles of projects based on clandestine observations of public or near public sex: Nightswimming by Stephen Barker, & 2 books by JC Bourcart - Madones Infertiles, & Forbidden City.

Anonymous said...


The YOSSI MILO GALLERY is out of signed copies of The Park. They will be getting more unsigned copies into the gallery when the book is officially distributed.


two things, the name should be Yoshiyuku Kohei in English, even if it is a pen name, and second, those photos in the park are faked, part of grand Japanese tradition called YARASE, in which things are faked to fool the public and now the NYTimes and the USA public got taken in. Foolish people. Don't you know what Japan is all about yet?


correction: his name in the book and article and gallery is a stage name, pen name, and KOHEI means in Japanese ...

so "Kohei Yoshiyuki" means Underclassman Yoshiyuki" so his name in ENglish in the NYTimes should be Mr Kohei Yoshiyuki in all references, NOT Mr. Yoshiyuki, the Times reporter obviously does not know Japanese....

-kohei: respect for an underclassman (someone a grade or more lower than u / JUNIOR)

u can call someone just Senpai or just Kohei if u dont want to say that person's name too.


“Down in the Park: Yoshiyuki Kohei’s Nocturnes, Interview by Araki Nobuyoshi.” Aperture, Fall 2007.

really, he would be called Yoshiyuki Kohei in Japanese and English.....why did the NYTimes reverse his name and come out looking like an illiterate Western newspaper?


so it would be Philip Senpai and Philip Kohei, as in Philip-san and Gefter-san......does the NYTimes have a full time copy editor desk or are they all out eating suchi?


"Mr. Kohei Yoshiyuki" is the correct way to call him. "Yoshiyuki" is his family name.
"吉行(Yoshiyuki) 耕平(Kohei)" in kanji. The same with a Japanese novelist
Yoshiyuki Jun'nosuke(吉行 淳之介).

The Times is wrong to call him Mr Yoshiyuki in print. How illiterate the Times is.

"Mr. Kohei Yoshiyuki" is the correct way to refer to him in every reference. "Yoshiyuki" is his family name.
"吉行(Yoshiyuki) 耕平(Kohei)" in kanji. The same with a Japanese novelist
Yoshiyuki Jun'nosuke(吉行 淳之介).

I had to laugh. Certainly, he was a famous photographer in 1970s and
80s but I don't think his photos are worth something. Is the American
art scene all right ? (?_?)

Yes, I too think his photos are "yarase". He was among young and
ambitious photographers in 1970s so it was likely that he committed

Yarase means staged. this comments are from a Japanes friend in Tokyo. The Times critic and the Times reader got taken by these staged photos. What's wrong with USA today?


Two more replies from different people.

A says this: "A smart estimation of this matter should include the sourcing of any and all claims pertaining to the authenticity of these photos. First, we have an artist of very high reputation, whose work has been accepted by the finest art galleries worldwide, whose experts have determined the veracity of the work at hand. Second, the bloggers that you so quickly accuse of being so naive have linked to none other than the New York Times. While the NYT may have had a very few problems with accuracy in reporting from a very few rogue reporters, their reputation on artistic matters is nothing short of sterling. Lastly, to make any claim regarding the stagecraft of these photos is to miss the point of the work itself. What matters is that the voyeuristic spirit of Japan and of photography itself was captured brilliantly in this series. All of these points are made in order to combat the overly skeptical and moody portrayals in the commentary made above. Simply put: would you please, for the love of God, just enjoy some good art, enjoy the story, and stop being such cynical killjoys."

B says this: "It was extremely obvious that something was wrong with those pictures. There is no way a group of guys would be able to crouch up that close on a couple having an intimate moment unless it was staged. I was kind of stumped as to why a couple of other blogs had not even noticed or mentioned it after this started going around the net. The fact that it raises questions is what makes it so great."

Anonymous said...


Thanks for all of the comments.

I wasn't sure about all of your attempts to get his name established and complaining about the NY times. The book, aside from whether you think the work is a hoax or not, is credited to Kohei Yoshiyuki. Whether that is a bad translation of his name or improper order of the two names would be difficult to argue since the artist himself would have approved the book before it went to press.

I think your observations on the validity of these images is a fascinating study of how each of us has individual perceptions of the same material. I like and respect that you believe that they were set up. The thought of that adds another dimention to the work that I would find even more compelling if it were true.

I tend to think they weren't set up though. But whether or not they are, the work still has a power of commenting on voyeurism (both by photographer and "peeper") and codes of conduct in public spaces.

I find the touching aspect by the "peepers" to be disturbing and almost unbelievable but then again, human sexuality as we know is so complicated that perhaps some of the couples could possibly been into that aspect as an additional turn on. Since we know that people can be into all sorts of scatalogical practice for sexual gratification, then this sort of added participation by onlookers would not be such an obvious example for someone to state that: "It was extremely obvious that something was wrong with those pictures. There is no way a group of guys would be able to crouch up that close on a couple having an intimate moment unless it was staged. I was kind of stumped as to why a couple of other blogs had not even noticed or mentioned it after this started going around the net."

Keep commenting.


Keeping commenting, thanks for good words, Jeff.

His name order is not important. I think i was wrong about his name meaning UNDERCLASSMAN YOSHIYUKI. I have now learned that Kohei Yoshiyuki is a perfectly good Japanese name, printed in Western style of Jeff Ladd, first name family name, so the Times did not make a mistake with his name. I did.

The main thing is that so few people in the West, eg, USA, have even suspected that maybe these photos were staged. many people do not know about the Japanese tradition of yarase, staging things for impact, and it is accepted in Japan, it is not considered fake, it is considered stage, a big difference, but the for the Times and so many other outlets and blogs to report this story as if it really happened, without ANY reservations, show me, and others in Japan itself, expats who live there, that the West still wants to go gaga over Japanese exoticism, not to mention eroticism, and they want to beleive that Japan is oh so way cool and exotic and weird and strange, and oh oh oh. I lived there. I know Japan. These photos are part of a grand tradition of yarase, staged things. Tres Japanese! Get over it, America, Get over it; NYTimes critic!

But Jeff, yes, your comments are good. the main thing is that staged or docu, the photos are fascinating, they are art, they are visionary, they deserve their day in the sun and in our conciousness....but let's also be clear that the real Japan is not what Americans still dream it is. Go ask a Japanese person living in NYC if these photos were staged.

I may be wrong, of course. I often am. But hey, 99% of the people on blogs think these photos are real, why so few doubters, why is everyone so gaga over Japan?

I lived there for 5 years, and understand a little. But I know about yarase to guess, guess, these photos are not genuine docu. They are staged. Ask GEfter.


Japanese TV and Japanese art world and book world is full of staged, yarase, things. It's part of the ying yang of the cherry blossoms falling into the park so we can think about how fleeting life is nihongo mindset that is simply BS!


And I love Japan, don't get me wrong. But Japan is a normal country with normal people and normal artists who practice staged events at times. Kohei is a good example. But the photos remain amazing, as does the Times slide show narrated by Gefter. See the blogs at and that talk about this subject. Better yet, GOOGLE yarase and find out what it means...

good discussion. glad to be a part of it. I left the USA in 1991, never to return. I live in Taiwan now, not CHINA. Taiwan.


A friend writes: "I finally got around to checking out the NY Times audio slide show on the linked article. I can only presume that the photos that are shown comprise a small sample of the full collection since I don’t see any nudity. The guy mentions though that the peeping toms only approached closely when the action got really hot but the photos still seem to show the couple more or less fully clothed, which suggests that these particular photos were faked."


"In any case, as a owner of dogs who like taking dumps in bushes, I find the thought of going at it in such unsanitary locations rather disgusting."


Jeff, see *** at end

Japanese TV (especially their game shows and reality shows) is notorious for airing some pretty bizarre and cruel stunts. Here are two good examples of that. These videos come from a candid-camera style show. I don't know it's name. In the first video an outdoor porta potty is equipped with a hydraulic lift that, ten seconds after the door is shut, lifts the bewildered occupant high into the air. And as NetNewsAsia points out, "for many people, ten seconds is evidently more than enough time to get down to the job at hand."

In the second video a massaging chair at a ski resort is rigged to send the occupant flying backwards through a trapdoor into the snow. The prank is then updated to make the chair jet-powered. Now its terrified occupants are sent blasting at top speed down the ski slope in a runaway chair.

If these pranks were done in America, I can't imagine someone not getting sued. Assuming, that is, that the pranks haven't been staged (i.e. that the victims aren't really actors). I think there's a good probability that they are.

****The Japanese have a term for staged events on shows like this: Yarase. Yarase is so common over there that many viewers just assume that most of the weird stuff they see on TV is fake.


“yarase” (i.e. staging a story for journalistic sensationalism)