Arles – 6 – Hiroshi Sugimoto

entrance the Sugimoto's Revution exhibition

entrance to Sugimoto’s Revution exhibition; self portrait in mirror reflection

I thought this exhibition might be the highlight of my visit yet it turned out to be rather disappointing owing to the harshness of the presentation; black and white photography can be a delicious exploration of grey but here it was very much black and white without much in-between! Armin Zweite argues in the introduction to the catalogue of the exhibition in the “Photography Becoming Painting” section that “His works range from black to white with a striking variety of gray nuances” yet this does not seem to be in evidence in Revolution; the text is in fact referring to Sugimoto’s Seascapes.

Catherine Banks by Sugimoto panoramic

Catherine Banks by Sugimoto panoramic

The panoramic images of seascapes containing the moon were upended so that one found oneself cricking one’s neck to see what they might look like horizontally; there is virtually no detail visible in these images except for the foreground of some images that revealed the ripple of waves. Apparently, this was done purposefully to add depth to the images and provide hazy horizons. Clouds are likewise defocused.

exhibition space of Sugimoto's Revolution

exhibition space of Sugimoto’s Revolution

There were a couple of horizontal photographs and these were placed at either end of the panoramic shaped hall in which the photographs were displayed. Long exposures mean that the moon is often registered as a bright streak. The following is from the artist’s statement and may provide some deeper insight into the nature of these photographs …

“For a long time it was my calling to stand on cliffs and gaze at the horizon, where the sea touches the sky. One day, standing atop a lone island peak in a remote sea, the horizon encompassing my entire field of vision, for a moment it felt as if I was floating above an immeasurable void. But then, as I viewed the horizon encircleing me, I had a distinct sensation of the earth as a watery globe.

In my dreams as a child, I often floated in midair. Sometimes I’d leave my body and watch my sleeping self from on high near the ceiling. Like a astral projection perhaps, a waking self coexisting simultaneously with a sleeping self. Even as an adult, I habitually imagine myself airborne. Might this be at the root of my artistic spirit?

There is certainly a contemplative feel to this work but referencing the artist’s statement seems necessary rather than enjoying the work for it’s visual impact. A fellow student (not Catherine who is pictured above) finds the presentation “slick”!

entrance to Colours of the Shadow exhibition

entrance to Colours of the Shadow exhibition

The philosophy behind Sugimoto’s other exhibition “The colour of shadows” is similar to “Revolution” as Sugimoto connects with nature in the making of the images. He explains … “my daily routine saw me rise at 5:30 every morning. First thing, I would check for hints of light dawning above the eastern horizon. If the day promised fair weather, next I would sight the ‘morning star’ shining to the upper right of the nascent dawn. Only then did I ready my old Polaroid camera and start warming up a film pack from the long winter night chill.”

discussion in Colours of the Shadow exhibition; the Last Supper mural can be seen in the background

OCA discussion in Colours of the Shadow exhibition; the Last Supper mural can be seen in the background while the glass prism is centre.

It took me a bit of time to work out how these images were made; some people said they were computer generated images and hence divorced from reality. In fact, they were scanned from polaroids made from photographing dawn reflections on a prism. Sugimoto states … “Sunlight travels through black empty space, strikes and suffers my prism, and refracts into an infinite continuum of colour. In order to view each hue more clearly, I devised a mirror with a special micro-adjusting tilting mechanism. Projecting the coloured beam from a prism onto my mirror, I reflected it into a dim observation chambre where I reduced it to Polaroid colours.

inside the Colours of the Shadow exhibition

inside the Colours of the Shadow exhibition

With Sugimoto’s work, it helps to know the context in which it is made to understand it. That done, this exhibition I found thoroughly enjoyable.

an image from the Colours of the Shadow exhibition

an image within glass from the Colours of the Shadow exhibition; others appeared as banners and wearable jackets

Hiroshi Sugimoto is highly regarded by the art world yet the immediacy of his work is not always evident. Is he playing with us? If so, it is in a good way it seems! I liked his exploration of natural or primal colour as a way of better understanding colour itself and understanding the emotional lure of colour where, for example, green is envy but can be spacious and free as in a colour of nature. If art is transformative, here it is helping us to see beyond the tug of the everyday colour we have become accustomed to perhaps enslaved by, and to connect with colour that can enliven our lives.

Perhaps I am starting to justify this work in the language of art critique and yet I did enjoy it unlike the rather dull and foreboding Revolution which one might however grow to like with time – the reproduction in the catalogue seems better than in the gallery to say nothing of the seductive accompanying essay!

Another student, Rob Seabridge, did not like Colours of the Shadow but did like Revolution, for almost the same reasons I liked Colours of the Shadow and not Revolution; we did not come to blows over this but enjoyed a meal together! Eileen has given a more balanced view with links.

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5 thoughts on “Arles – 6 – Hiroshi Sugimoto

  1. As I was reading your post I began to think that, maybe, the coloured silk images speak for themselves because of their richness but the moonscapes gain from the explanation.

  2. Pingback: Arles – 5 – John Davies | Amano photographic studies

  3. Take a look at Sugimoto’s earlier work in cinemas: Each frame is exposed for the length of the film. The screen bleaces to white but the theatre is still dark. He used the high contrast of light to separate the film from the ambient light, the opposite of what we experience when seeing the film. I find his work interesting, if tending towards gimmickry (e.g. to rotate seascapes 90 degrees)

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