Hiroshi Sugimoto

By Richard, Frances | Artforum International, September 1997 | Go to article overview

Hiroshi Sugimoto


Richard, Frances, Artforum International


SONNABEND GALLERY

In Hiroshi Sugimoto's seascapes, action, what there is of it, transpires in the subtle play between opposites. In each photograph, change and stasis, clarity and fog, detail and totality oscillate, creating a theater of "non-happening," what the artist calls "time exposed." With a few significant departures, this show represented a continuation of Sugimoto's ongoing photographic series, begun in the mid '70s, in which images are produced by leaving the camera shutter open for as long as three hours, allowing the passage of time to coalesce into the single moment a still photograph purports to represent. (Parallel series include photographs of drive-ins and period movie houses.) Delicately evocative and stubbornly literal, as much about the nature of photography as about the nature of nature, Sugimoto's pictures resist verbal commentary because each statement about them seems to dissolve willfully into its antithesis. The pictures' very resistance, however, increases the number of things to be said about them; in this sense, Sugimoto proves Susan Sontag's dictum that photographs exist in order to be captioned.

In this show, Sugimoto's images sorted themselves into several basic types. There were clear dayscapes, in which crisp, absolute horizons divided bright, blank skies from wave-flecked water dark as charcoal. There were foggy dayscapes, with sky and sea merged atmospherically, the horizons blurred or nonexistent. And there were nightscapes, in which sky, water, waves, and horizons registered as myriad degrees of black. Most radical - given the artist's fastidiousness about print quality - was a new body of work shot, deliberately out of focus, on early mornings. Amidst dark water and sky, brilliant, blob-like sunpaths spilled from misty horizons, as if Monet or Turner had been given the sleek technology and cool distance of contemporary photographic vision. Also new for Sugimoto was a venture into video, Accelerated Buddha, 1997, in which a 1995 series of photographs - made in a Kyoto temple famous for its thousands of unique but nearly indistinguishable sculptures faded into one another, frame by frame. …

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