Long ago, in a far away land, as a naive student working in practical isolation I made photographs of natural history dioramas only to discover that someone else had done the same thing years before me. Then I made simple black and white photographs of the ocean, only to discover that someone else had already made them (and much more elegantly). In short, Hiroshi Sugimoto is my photographic father. His work pokes at the root of my twin concerns: time and perspective. He's also a prodigious badass with almost four decades of experience making pretty pictures. The decor world has taken note.
His theater series was shot by exposing an entire movie on a single sheet of large format film. The result is blinding, as if every neural synapse has fired simultaneously. The architecture is stunning -- a reminder of a bygone era, and although these images were largely shot in the 70s, they seem to presage a time when the collective viewing of a film has passed. The sense of loss is palpable.
The seascapes may be his best knows works. Reduced to the singular properties of water and air, they are visually calming but intellectually startling. As Sugimoto points out, the probability of existence for these two elements -- responsible for our evolution (or devolution) -- is mind bogglingly slim. And yet we search for another planet just like ours.
And then there are the waxworks. In a perfect imitation of Flemish painting (itself meant to conjure a perfect imitation of life), Sugimoto condenses the life and death of history's most important personages into a single split second, frozen like flies in amber. The vast majority of us have never known these people save through reproduced evidence. A photograph, much like celebrity, keeps us at arm's length.
Most recently, Sugimoto has composed a body of work that hints at the core nature of analog photography.
Using Van Der Graaf generators and Tesla coils, Sugimoto records each electrical impulse making its way across a piece of large format film. This reminds me of how I destroyed my graphing calculator in high school physics class (Tesla coil + expensive calculator = angry parents), but more importantly it gives hope to us anachronists.
Maybe film won't go extinct.
There may yet be a reason for me to bust out my ancient large format camera and toss a black hood over my head.