[ BOOK LIVES ] The Park by Kohei Yoshiyuki

First, I am not going to try to justify why I have added to my collection a copy of The Park, a borderline-porn book by Kohei Yoshiyuki.

Now if that doesn’t pique your interest, I don’t know what will.

Take a look, this is voyeurism at its best. Couples fornicating, peepers peeping. In your face. Spectator sports. Twisted social phenomenon. “Only in Japan”.

Soft porn, arguable, although those with higher moral standard will definitely classify it as porn. Period.

What do we say about people who buy it?

Mind you when The Park was first published in 1980, all 100,000 copies were sold out in double quick time.

A year earlier, when the exhibition was staged, visitors to the show were given a torch light so they could feel the atmosphere Yoshiyuki, who had no other significant works, wanted to recreate. There you go, he was a true artist first, not a peeping tom.

It is so important that the revered Martin Parr and Gerry Badger included it in their anthology on photo books. And check out the list of important institutions which have collected the works.

(Wait, I was actually justifying without realizing it.)

Now how do I really feel?

I didn’t buy it because I really like it but it has nothing to do with me being puritanical. Far from it.

Ahem, I think I really just got to have it.

I knew the existence of the original book, but I didn’t know about this limited edition re-issue.

When I first saw it at Aoyama Book Center, it was wrapped up, for obvious reason. When I returned a few weeks later, it was still sealed and I paid for it without actually opening it.

Let’s say I understand it, and I appreciate the freedom afforded to artists, especially in today’s tricky climate. I know it has a place in the history of photography. I really do.

Inquisitive social scientists may argue that there are academic merits in finding out why societies have become more and more sexless. Where have the animal magnetism in Yoshiyuki’s pictures disappeared to?

The new box edition also includes a facsimile of the original version .

Yoshiyuki claimed in his interview with the equally lecherous Nobuyoshi Araki that nothing he did was illegal although I am not too sure.

Perhaps from where he stood, in the dark, those going at it in the public parks, have more to worry.

To a greater extent, it is true that as a photographer, he had the obligation to document what really went on in the society.

In the purest sense, nobody could claim that more couples went to the park to do it so they could be captured by Yoshiyuki. And what’s wrong with sex between two consenting adults?

(I’m still justifying.)

Is it arty? Sure. Are we looking at the compositions the way we would with most photographs? Maybe. Is there something worth talking in depth in terms of the way Yoshiyuki ‘arranged’ the mingling bodies in his frames? Probably.

So far, everything I said is good so I have to throw in a spanner in case I get accused of being a totally twisted old man with no redeeming qualities.

That conversation between Yoshiyuki and Araki just feels very frivolous, like two teenagers bragging about their illicit hobbies.

Almost too gleeful.

It kind of devalues the works.

That’s not what high art should be.

But then, who really cares?

After all, it sold 100,000 copies and more will be sold after this review, that’s if you can find a copy.

Go ahead and like it.