1948, Tokyo, Japan
Hiroshi Sugimoto is a contemporary Japanese photographer whose esoteric practice explores memory and time. Using the intrinsic quality of long exposure photography, the artist provides insight into how the medium can both obscure and alter reality. Influenced by Dadaist and Surrealist theory, Sugimoto’s Seascapes, Dioramas, and Theaters, craft mysterious scenes from vernacular subject matter. “Photography is like a found object. A photographer never makes an actual subject; they just steal the image from the world,” the artist said. “Photography is a system of saving memories. It’s a time machine, in a way, to preserve the memory, to preserve time.”
Born on February 23, 1948, in Tokyo, Japan, he graduated with a degree in sociology and politics from Rikkyo University in 1970. Sugimoto initially studied politics and sociology at St. Paul’s University in Tokyo, but in 1970 he enrolled at the Art Center College of Art and Design in Los Angeles to study Fine Art. He subsequently moved to New York, where he established himself as a photographer interested in the representation of reality.
Sugimoto photographed movie and opera houses, natural history dioramas, and wax figures, using long exposures to create strange scenes with unnatural lighting. Sugimoto is also a practicing architect and has designed specific spaces to exhibit his photography; his interest in architecture is also evident in his numerous photographs of old buildings. To craft his exquisite black-and-white images, Hiroshi Sugimoto uses a 19th-century-style, large-format camera, exploring his idea of photography as a method for preserving and modeling time. “Endeavors in art are…mere approximations, efforts to render visible unseen realms,” he says. Influenced by Surrealism and Dada, Sugimoto’s work is intimately connected to Marcel Duchamp, as in his series “Conceptual Forms” (2004), (inspired by Duchamp’s The Large Glass, 1923), large-scale black-and-white photographs of mathematical models and tools. Ongoing subjects include dioramas, theaters, Buddhist sculptures, and seascapes—the latter captured in a famous series of near-abstractions, coupled with specific geographic titles. “I imagine my vision then try to make it happen, just like painting,” he says. “The reality is there, but how to make it like my reality.”
He was the recipient of the Hasselblad Award in 2001, and the subject of a mid-career retrospective in 2006 organized by the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington D.C. and the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo. His work can be found in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, The Museum of Modern Art in New York, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and the Center for Contemporary Art in Kitakyushu, Japan.
Hiroshi Sugimoto currently lives and works between New York, NY and Tokyo, Japan.