I first learned about Sugimoto in 2012, and borrowed a book some time later which I found magical to read and to look at. Unfortunately it was not mine to keep.
I kept a note of the book and some quotes from it written down which I felt it timely to include here. I no longer have access to the book to check these and so I am including this post as a ‘draft’, in case there are amendments needed. I hope to revisit at this publication again. It is funny how I seem to have come full circle with my thinking, as Sugimoto was very much at the forefront of my mind at this time, and I am once again reducing myself to ideas of living and being.
Developments in photographic approaches throughout Sugimoto’s life saw a shift from direct representation to a rejection of purism e.g. combining media, handheld snapshots etc, then a renewed large format artistic style. This movement in photography will have had impact upon his own practice as he was already involved with it whilst these changes were taking place, i.e. during the 1960s and 70s.
This direct witnessing of photographic explorations combined with Sugimoto’s historic personal interest in science, life, the natural world, consciousness and perception led him to develop his own way of using cameras and interacting with the practice of photography including image production and methods of exhibition. For Sugimoto, “photography was simply an extension of our way of the perceiving the world” (Brougher in Sugimoto, p24).
The book I accessed referred to many 20th Century visual artists and photographers who have influenced and inspired Sugimoto’s work including Marcel Duchamp, Joel Sternfield, Lee Friedlander etc. Artist Donald Judd is quoted to have said that “the thing as a whole, is quality as a whole, is what is interesting” (Judd in Sugimoto, p24) reflecting his views on the greater picture of art being part of the world. Sugimoto also refers to the camera obscura (meaning ‘dark chamber’ as being a means of creating early art and one that inspired his work. For ‘In Praise of Shadows’ he photographed using long shutter speeds the burning of a candle from beginning to end. This work plays with photography’s ideas of drawing with light, and the way Sugimoto chose to display them transformed the work into an ephemeral and elemental experience, one in which a dark chamber was used. “Using the negative, Sugimoto installed these works with a real candle, thereby casting ‘positive’ photographic ghosts onto the gallery walls. The photographs become spectral candles undulating to the rhythm of the real burning candle and blurring the distinction between the photographic image and reality.” (p29)
Of his diorama photographs taken in the Museum of Natural History: “One day … [Sugimoto] had the idea of covering one of his eyes as he looked at these tableaux and was immediately struck by the fact that they were already close to being a photograph. Extending this one-eyed vision to the rest of the world … he began to comprehend that, for him, photography does not exist separately from the world; it is not an invention to capture truth beyond the lens, but already exists as an innate perceptual tool within our mind.” (Brougher in Sugimoto, p25)
Sugimoto’s simple gesture of covering his eye reveals the primal photographic essence of the human mind.” (p26) “… he suggests, we do not exist outside photography but rather photography resides within us” (p27)
Of the 48 images that comprise the series ‘Sea of Buddha’ (see image); “They do not represent the real world; they are manifestations of an ideal world, one that has been replicated repeatedly in the mind.” (p25)
“The camera is within the earth itself, part of nature, part of us.” (p31)
Sugimoto, H., Brougher, K., Elliott, D., Mori Bijutsukan, & Hirshhorn Museum Sculpture Garden. (2005). Hiroshi Sugimoto. Ostfildern-Ruit: Hatje Cantz
(I hope that this reference is correct – if amendment is needed this post will be updated)
Featured image: Sugimoto, H. (1995) Sea of Buddha 002
Available at: https://www.sugimotohiroshi.com/new-page-49
(Accessed 04 April 2019)