About photobooks – old and new.
Zoo York – Cage without bars
Published by Ko Yu Shuppan in 1993
4to, photographically illustrated softcover with obi, 122 pages
“Zoo York” reflects New York’s extravagance of the 1980s, when individual freedoms, sexual in particular, became relatively unrestricted and openly expressed in the streets of NY. Nagasaki’s title for this photobook could sound critical of NY’s flamboyant lifestyle, but in fact, as he explains in the introduction, “New York is a zoo, not because the people here are animals, but because, as in any zoo, they are interesting and worth examining. We do not visit a zoo with a sense of judgement or superiority. We go for a better understanding of a different way of life…Here people have freedom to choose their own lifestyles: how they want to live.”
Despite the fact that people did not need to conform and seemed to be accepted for what they were, Nagasaki remained skeptical about real personal freedom. “No matter how we look at it – life is a cage from which one cannot escape.” Having in mind this contradiction, Nagasaki explores throughout his photos, this dual perspective: some photos show explicit sexual scenes in the streets and private clubs, while others focus on the less fortunate, homeless and drug addicts. Towards the end of the book, there is a photo of an interracial couple – Ruiko Yoshida (autor of Harlem Black Angels) with her husband (and their sun).
This photobook registered a fascinating period of NYC, which is now viewed as the pre-Giuliani era, and allow us to understand why many remained nostalgic of that time. Although the streets became safer, prostitution and explicit pornography less visible, NYC progressively became dominated by a more conformist lifestyle, losing its pulse and excitement.