Hiroshi Sugimoto @ The Pace Gallery (Royal Academy of Art)

The gallery website state the following about Sugimoto whose work I have seen before, recently at The Constructed World’s exhibition and also in Arles 2013 …

Pace London is delighted to present Hiroshi Sugimoto: Still Life Diorama series. Essential to Sugimoto’s work is the concept of mastery and using available media to create images that resonate long after a viewing. His images are formally composed and rigorously printed, and evidence of the inevitable distortions that accompany the processes of seeing and interpretation.”
While I like Sugimoto’s imagery, I find his printing rather basic, lacking the tonal range that is possible with contemporary digital printing methods that I have of late been experimenting with. Apart from just wanting to see and enjoy the images, I also want to investigate them!
A fellow student, Keith Greenough, has been to see the exhibition; reading his comments is stimulating and I wonder if I shall share his views. He is clearly enamoured with Sugimoto but I am not sure I shall be!?
I find the Pace Gallery at the back of the Royal Academy of the Arts (Googlemaps points me elsewhere!) where a large white room holds a small collection of huge black and white prints; they vary a little in size but some are at least 6 feet high and considerably wider such as the panoramic of trees in woodland that faces one on entry into the gallery.
The photographs are all black and white prints made with the help of a large format film camera with the resultant prints being made via the traditional chemical method one assumes although I can not find verification of this; these could be digital prints therefore. None of the prints, there are 13, carry any indication of what they are, no captions or titles, although an information sheet put out by the gallery tells us they are dioramas, photographs of paintings from natural history museums.
At first, the life like nature of the paintings might deceive one into thinking they are photographs but on closer inspection, one can see that much has been painted; the detail is uncannily accurate yet not entirely realistic unlike the convincing representations made by photographs.
What Sugimoto has done is photograph coloured paintings and made them into tonally rich photographs unlike others of his I have seen such as his sea horizon images. This is an interesting transformation and certainly pleasing to the eye but I find myself objecting not just at Sugimoto but at much black and white printing in which there is an apparent obsession with a true black and a high white, an extended tonal range that no longer reflects the tonal range it represents, preferring instead to exist on it’s own. Sugimoto has craftily managed the tonal range yet the result is a slightly unnatural looking image which, in this case, is understandable as the dioramas are themselves representations with their inevitable signs of fiction.
When I look at Sugimoto’s work, I find myself fascinated and drawn in to his vision yet at the same time, I am aware of my own way of working and what I am trying to achieve and sense a difference. Unlike Sugimoto, I do not know what I am trying to say if anything.
Sugimoto has a message behind what he is doing and writes, “The first time I saw a diorama I was overwhelmed by the fragility of existence that it captured. being models of nature, dioramas include many of the world’s constituent parts. The only thing absent is life itself. Time comes to a halt and never-ending stillness reigns.”
Sugimoto is interested in the concepts of memory and preservation; he has a lifelong interest in the forces of history with the changes of the natural world which might be loosely described as evolution. He also writes, “All over the planet, nature is being transformed into un-nature at breakneck speed.”
It is wonderful to walk around this exhibition. Initially, there are inevitable questions about how the work is made and what it might mean yet overall, the photographs convey an overwhelming sense of nature that is both peaceful as in the woodland panorama yet can also be violent, the Ostriches guard eggs and chicks as a small group of piglike creatures eye them expectantly creating an image that contains suspense, an image that Sugimoto has transformed for us to contemplate.
HERE is a review of the exhibition from The Evening Standard; there is also a personal account at Keith Greenough, fellow OCA student’s blog.
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