Hiroshi Sugimoto

A sensitive and comprehensive portrait made with Sugimoto that discusses his life, vision and focuses particularly on his recent works on ‘Lightning Fields’ and electricity, sculpted and photographed forms from mathematical formulae, reviving ancient Japanese traditions from Shinto and theatre and a gallery to communicate his vision to next generations.

Hiroshi Sugimoto is a contemporary Japanese photographer, born in 1948 and dividing his time between Japan and New York. His use of an 8×10 large-format camera and extremely long exposures have given Sugimoto a reputation as a photographer of the highest technical ability. He has spoken of his work as an expression of ‘time exposed’, or photographs serving as a time capsule for a series of events in time. His work focuses on transience of life, and the conflict between life and death. A lot of his work also relates to scientific concepts – electricity and origins of life and visual forms from mathematical formulae. His work has been a key inspiration for by black and white photography in:

  • 2.2.1 Bridge where in my treatment of the bridge shapes I am inspired by the dramatic black white contrasts of his Conceptual Forms and Joe, and his work on the branching forms of electricity has influenced my working of the algae and other textures.
  • 2.2.2 Shutterscapes: Lake District my series on cloudscapes and mountains has been influenced by Seascapes.

Sugimoto’s vision

Sugimoto’s website

[Photography is] a kind of contrivance to externalize my internal vision. The world exists and so do I. But does the world exist as I see it? It may be that each individual is seeing the world differently. And all share the same fantasy of how this world should look like.

Thousands of years of history are in me.

We see what must be seen. Then disappear into the sea.

‘Capitalism won’t stop until we have depleted all resources….my work hopefully gives us an opportunity to think before destroying ourselves’

He works in series projects. The images that have been most influential on my own work are those that are highly abstract, dealing with light, dark and time as a way of making us think about life and our place in a fragile world in an immediate and haunting way.

Discussion by Sugimoto of the evolution of his photographic approach and concept, particularly towards his seascapes and more minimalist works. The underpinnings are not just meditative awe at the beauty of minimalist landscapes and a wish to reflect on what is timeless – we have been changing the land, but seascapes are what our earliest ancestors saw. He links this to our responsibility for our future ‘Capitalism won’t stop until we have depleted all resources….my work hopefully gives us an opportunity to think before destroying ourselves’
A catalogue of some of Sugimoto’s best known work by Ted Forbes, explaining his aims and techniques: Movie Theatres, Seascapes, Chamber of Horrors, Architecture, In Praise of Shadows – a series of abstract images of candles burning down and picures of wax works.

The series that have been most influential on my own work are those that are highly abstract, dealing with light and time as a way of making us think about life and our place in a fragile world.

Seascapes  

The seascapes are a series of very large black and white prints all have the same middle horizon line. These images have inspired my reworking of:

So very commonplace are these substances, they hardly attract attention―and yet they vouchsafe our very existence…Let’s just say that there happened to be a planet with water and air in our solar system, and moreover at precisely the right distance from the sun for the temperatures required to coax forth life. While hardly inconceivable that at least one such planet should exist in the vast reaches of universe, we search in vain for another similar example. Mystery of mysteries, water and air are right there before us in the sea. Every time I view the sea, I feel a calming sense of security, as if visiting my ancestral home; I embark on a voyage of seeing.

This beautiful series of very large black and white prints all have the same middle horizon line. When presented here as an on-line presentation the different light and weather conditions around the same horizon line merge into each other in a really haunting way.

Their minimalist abstraction and meditative impact has been compared to that of Rothko’s paintings – but strangely the painting appear more ‘realistic’ than the photographs.

A discussion of a Pace exhibition in London and catalogue comparing the work of Hiroshi Sugimoto and Mark Rothko in terms of compositions.

Revolution

In this series he is at his most minimalist: ‘horizontality’, verticality and diagonals of Angst. With dramatic, eerie splashes of light.

For a long time it was my job to stand on cliffs and gaze at the sea, the horizon where it touches the sky. The horizon is not a straight line, but a segment of a great arc. One day, standing atop a lone island peak in a remote sea, the horizon encompassing my entire field of vision, for a moment I was floating in the centre of a vast basin. But then, as I viewed the horizon encircle me, I had a distinct sensation of the earth as a watery globe, a clear vision of the horizon not as an endless expanse but the edge of an oceanic sphere…There remains… a great divide between comprehending (i.e. explaining) the world and being able to explain what we ourselves are. And even then, what we can explain of the world is far less than what we cannot ― though people tend be more attracted by the unexplained. In all this, I somehow feel we are nearing an era when religion and art will once again cast doubts upon science, or else an era when things better seen through to a scientific conclusion will bow to religious judgement.

This French video discusses Sugimoto’s approach to time and abstraction. In this series he is at his most minimalist: ‘horizontality’, verticality and diagonals of Angst. With splashes of light.

Joe and Conceptual Forms

Like a work of architecture, this sculpture has to be experienced by walking around and through it… Joe is different according to the time of the day, the season, and the viewer’s position. It is in the visitor’s memory that the sculpture “takes shape” in the most complete way…Using a photographic technique involving areas of extremely soft light and blurred darkness, he sculpted views that seem like aspects of visual memory: the arts of photography and sculpture overlap and memories of the two-and the three-dimensional mix.

See: https://www.sugimotohiroshi.com/joe-1 and https://www.sugimotohiroshi.com/new-page-24

Drive-in Theatre

Its eerie light and blank picture on nothingness.

https://www.sugimotohiroshi.com/drivein-theatre

Lightning Fields

The idea of observing the effects of electrical discharges on photographic dry plates reflects my desire to re-create the major discoveries of these scientific pioneers in the darkroom and verify them with my own eyes. His process is discussed in detail in

See: https://www.sugimotohiroshi.com/new-page-28

Further ideas I want to explore

Architecture

 I decided to trace the beginnings of our age via architecture. Pushing my old large-format camera’s focal length out to twice-infinity―with no stops on the bellows rail, the view through the lens was an utter blur―I discovered that superlative architecture survives, however dissolved, the onslaught of blurred photography. Thus I began erosion-testing architecture for durability, completely melting away many of the buildings in the process.

See: https://www.sugimotohiroshi.com/new-page-5

Chamber of Horrors

People in olden times were apparently less fearful and grievous of death than we are today. To some it was even an honour to be chosen by the gods as a sacrificial victim, a liberation from the sufferings and strife of this life…Must we moderns be so sheltered from death?