A pair of lovers, even in bed, is never really alone; beside them lie the ghosts of
past loves and Oedipal dramas, and all manner of imaginary companions. But the couples in Kohei Yoshiyuki’s photographs are particularly well-attended. For a few years in the 1970s, Yoshiyuki (born in Hiroshima Prefecture in 1946) prowled the parks of Tokyo, using infrared film to photograph people having furtive sex outdoors at night, and lustful hordes of men intent on watching them.
Each park, it seems, had its area of specialization. The pictures Yoshiyuki shot between 1978 and 1979, focusing on homosexual encounters, unfold amid wide-open vistas. The slim young men and the trees they lean against while cruising, groping, or otherwise enjoying the attentions of (sometimes multiple) companions form a series of coolly elegant verticals. His heterosexual couples (photographed between 1971 and 1973) tend to grapple wildly on the ground, the women’s exposed thighs flashing like flares in the scrubby underbrush, the surrounding onlookers creeping in like soldiers, on their knees or bellies, at time astonishingly (and threateningly) close.
His signature image was the clutch: a pair of headless bodies, a tangle of half-clothed limbs, seized by passion and thrown together—human specimens sprouting in the agar of lust. Weegee (another nighttime prowler) comes to mind, but also 19th-century photographs of hysterics, whose bodies provided the fodder for an entire profession of medical voyeurs. What’s most evident—and most uncomfortable—here is the photographer’s (and our own) alignment with those mesmerized masses. Among the men in skivvies moving in on their prey like hunters, fumbling with their flies, or reaching in to cop a feel, there is us.