Between Sea and Sky: The Minimalist Photography of Hiroshi Sugimoto

The work of the Japanese photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto (b. 1948) recalls the abstract paintings of Mark Rothko. Both draws the eyes to works that possess a luminous timeless quality.

Born in Tokyo, Sugimoto spent most of his career in the US, principally New York, where he is currently based. He is best known for his enigmatic black-and-white photos of American theatres, films compressed into nearly blank images and his equally mystical seascape series. Sugimoto’s guiding philosophy is not to capture the magic of the moment, but to evoke ‘the infinite and the immeasurable’ much as Minimalist painters like Rothko do.

The white screen that appears in his Theaters series (begun in 1978) is the result of shooting the projection of a feature film. As each frame of film flickers by, the shifting action and light both cancels and accumulates until the film, shown in its entirety, is recorded as a bright, blank screen, appearing empty of imagery while actually filled to overflowing. Sugimoto calls this “time exposed”—the collecting, in one still image, of moments passed.

His Seascapes series (begun in 1999) are my favourites. Photographed with cartographic precision, each image shows sea and sky bisected by a seemingly infinite horizon. Rather than taming the subject through repeated documentation, the series grows more awesome and sublime, until the images reveal only the transient atmospherics—the thickness of fog or stillness of the water.

Sugimoto received fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation in 1980 and the National Endowment for the Arts in 1982. In 2001, he won the Hasselblad Foundation International Award in Photography. 

Selected Works of Hiroshi Sugimoto

Carribean Sea
Ligurian Sea, Saviore
Tyrrhenain Sea, Scilla
Lake Superior, Eagle River
North Atlantic Ocean, Cape Breton
Sea of Japan, Hokkaido
Mediterrean Sea, La Ciotat

Video: An Interview with Hiroshi Sugimoto

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