Tag Archives: Japanese photography

Kohei Yoshiyuki: Sex in the Park

Laurie says:

A friend whose opinions on art I really respect pointed me at this work a while ago. Because of that respect I’ve been thinking about it but I keep ending up in the same place.  Kohei Yoshiyuki has had both gallery and museum exhibition and the work is being treated as important and serious.  He spent several months befriending and becoming part of the sexual peeper groups in the parks before taking these secret photos.  The infrared flash he used meant that his shooting was invisible.

There is more work at the Yossi Miho Gallery


The Yossi Miho Gallery talks about the exhibition — “For these photos, taken in Tokyo’s Shinjuku, Yoyogi, and Aoyama parks during the 1970s, Mr. Yoshiyuki used a 35mm camera, infrared film, and flash to document the people who gathered there at night for clandestine trysts, as well as the many spectators lurking in the bushes who watched—and sometimes participated in—these couplings. With their raw, snapshot-like quality, these images not only uncover the hidden sexual exploits of their subjects, both homosexual and heterosexual and also serve as a chronicle of a Japan we rarely see; as Martin Parr writes in The Photobook: A History, Volume II, The Park 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.”


As does the New York Times. “If the social phenomena captured in these photographs seem distinctly linked to Japanese culture, Mr. Yoshiyuki’s images of voyeurs reverberate well beyond it. Viewing his pictures means that you too are looking at activities not meant to be seen. We line up right behind the photographer, surreptitiously watching the peeping toms who are secretly watching the couples. Voyeurism is us.” There are more photos at the gallery site.

I’m appalled by the work.  I usually have complex reactions to work and the questions it raises, but not this time.

This isn’t about shocking — shocking is fine if it’s interesting and or good art. Stealing photos of people who think they have personal privacy very rarely can be justified and certainly not in this case.  Voyeurism is about spying when you know you shouldn’t.  Clearly, it can be thrilling, but that doesn’t make it OK when you’re violating people’s non-public lives.  The consequences for people if they had been recognized from these photos would have been unfortunate.  There was also the potential here for violating real lives.  (The work was published in book form at that time.)

I’m not talking about the quality of the art.  I’m very unimpressed with the web images but I don’t know how I would react to the actual prints.  But I doubt that this is that kind of remarkably good work that can make you want to re-evaluate.

I would be interested in the commentators’ reactions if these photos had been taken in parks in the US in the 1960’s or now.  Would they be talking about it “being linked distinctly to US culture” with quite so much confidence?  Would it be “capturing perfectly the loneliness, sadness, and desperation that so often accompany sexual or human relationships in a big, hard metropolis like New York?”  And I wonder if they would be quite so comfortable about people being recognized.

Miyako Ishiuchi, Photographer: Scars

Laurie says:

I spent some time earlier this month with Hiroshi Yoshioka, a professor at Kyoto University, who I had met through his writing about Familiar Men and his interview of me for his magazine Diatext, when I was an artist in residence at the Kyoto Art Center a few years ago. He was writing in the magazine about slowness (“creating slowness within speed”) both in life and philosophy and he felt that my process with my models fit this conversation. Unlike many photographers, my collaborations with the people I photograph, particularly in the US, involve time and conversation and a long shoot. The process is often spread out over several months. Among other things, I like to give people lots of time to make up their minds.  My friend Carol Squires had taken the longest time (over 6 months) until this past year when two Japanese  women took two years to decide to be photographed together.

Hiroshi Yoshioka and I became friends. When he was here, we spent a nice day in the city together and then I went to hear him speak later in the week at the Art Institute in San Francisco. He was talking about both his magazine work and the exhibitions he’s curated. As part of his presentation, he spoke about the photos of photographer Miyako Ishiuchi and I’ve been thinking about her work.

I met Ishiuchi in Japan and we were on a panel together at Third Gallery Aya, the feminist gallery in Osaka. Our work is quite different  but we both frequently photograph the body in intimate ways: me in black and white, and Ishiuchi in both black and white and color.

My work is predominantly portraits. Ishiuchi’s is either body parts or individual objects. She’s done body part series on scars, and hands and feet among others. Her work includes a series on her mother, of objects that were part of her mother’s life, lipstick, clothing and so on.

Most of my work is small by today’s standards from 8″ by 10″ to perhaps (very occasionally) 20″ by 22″. Ishiuchi’s photographs are on a much larger scale.

Her scar photos, at many times lifesize, involve you in the patterning and sometimes beauty of the scars in a way that somewhat (for me) abstracts them and can give you a sense of them, that is almost separate from the physically present body.

Miyako Ishiuchi Breast

This image of a breast seems very intimate to me on the blog but when I see them in a gallery close to the size of my body, I experience it very differently.

They also remind me of what I quoted Kurt as saying in a recent blog post I called Art -Disability – Beauty:

“Not all landscapes should be painted in Tuscany. Sometimes a stormy sea is as striking as one that looks like glass. An image of the human body—any human body—has the potential to make a statement, and force viewers to consider themselves in ways they never had before.”

Miyako Ishiuchi Hand