Foto Fix: Hiroshi Sugimoto

last supper

The Photography of Hiroshi Sugimoto

Eclectix recently visited the Fraenkel Gallery in San Francisco and we were enthralled with the huge Hiroshi Sugimoto prints covering a gallery wall.  Titled “The Last Supper: Acts of God”, the five-panel photograph more than 24 feet in length, was damaged and eroded with a beautiful decay.

In Japan, Sugimoto found a museum with a life-size waxworks ensemble based loosely on Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper.” He captured it in large black-and-white prints and happened to have a set of them stored in his Lower Manhattan basement in 2012 when Superstorm Sandy hit. The prints suffered water damage and he saw this as enhancements, prompting the joking subtitle “Acts of God” to link the pictures’ subject matter, the natural disaster and its artistic upshot. They are riddled with emulsion puddles, wrinkles and wonderful tactile elements of dissolve.

hiroshi sugimoto fraenkel gallery

fraenkel gallery

On view at Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco, through July 2nd, 2014

“I chose to interpret this as the invisible hand of God coming down to bring my monumental, but unfinished Last Supper to completion. Leonardo completed his Last Supper over five hundred years ago, and it has deteriorated beautifully. I can only be grateful to the storm for putting my work through a half-millennium’s worth of stresses in so short a time.”

Hiroshi’s interesting work begged us to delve a bit further into his past portfolio. Featured below are selections from his various bodies of work, with summaries by the Guggenheim.


Hiroshi Sugimoto theater

The white screen that reappears in his Theaters series (begun in 1978) is itself the result of shooting the projection of a feature film. Photographing drive-ins, golden-age cinema palaces, and modern movie houses, he uses an exposure determined by the length of the screening. 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.





The Seascapes series (begun in 1999) are photographed with cartographic precision. Each image, titled for the body of water depicted, is comprised of sea and sky bisected by the horizon. Rather than taming the subject through repeated documentation, the series grows more awesome and sublime, and the images reveal that only the temporary atmospherics—the thickness of fog or stillness of the water—distinguish one sea from the next.



 Hiroshi Sugimoto portraits

In his Portraits (begun in 1999), Sugimoto rekindles the dialogue between painting and the medium of mechanical reproduction. Sugimoto isolated wax figures from staged vignettes in waxworks museums, posed them in three-quarter-length view, and illuminated them to create haunting Rembrandt-esque portraits of historical figures, such as Henry VIII, Napoleon Bonaparte, Fidel Castro, and Princess Diana. His painterly renditions, lush with detail, recall the various paintings from which the wax figures were originally drawn. Through layers of reproduction—from subject to painting to wax statue to photograph—these images most consciously convey the collapsing of time and the retelling of history.




Upon first arriving in New York in 1974, I did the tourist thing. Eventually I visited the Natural History Museum, where I made a curious discovery: the stuffed animals positioned before painted backdrops looked utterly fake, yet by taking a quick peek with one eye closed, all perspective vanished, and suddenly they looked very real. I’d found a way to see the world as a camera does. However fake the subject, once photographed, it’s as good as real.Hiroshi Sugimoto



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