Hiroshi Sugimoto is currently launching a restrained but fascinating two-pronged assault at Marian Goodman’s galleries in London and Paris. Sugimoto has been on the radar for a long time of course, his accomplishments as a photographer, artist and thinker have been influenced and influential by turns. He is however quite hard to write about; his works are staged and controlled, without stray reference or interference, and because of that unwelcoming to idle gossip or the more fantastical conjectures of art criticism.
His composure through his work over time (some 35 years) has been extraordinary, through his seascapes of the early 1980’s to his more recent and extraordinarily beautiful step-and-repeat ‘Sea of Buddhas’, shown last year at Pace in New York.
In his London showing ‘Snow White’, at Marian Goodman Gallery until Dec 22nd 2017, his exquisite photographs provide much food for thought: Dilapidated cinemas and theatres are captured in the eerie incidental light of working movie projectors showing various symbolically referenced films . Sugimoto himself describes how different movies yield different ambient lighting for the venues, with upbeat movies lending bright illumination, and more solemn screenings apparently yielding lower light levels. Sugimoto uses a plate film camera to capture these as time exposures, and in the images presented here, his prolonged over-exposures render the focal points of the images illegible, saturated and obliterated as they are by the accrued light of on-screen projection. The ambient film noir grandeur of the venues is transfixed in a sharp sepulchral focus, reminiscent of some forgotten romantic talkie, the actors long since disappeared, slow-dissolved into a sea of white, grey or reddish-hued oblivion.
We thus find ourselves exposed to, and by, the photographs in a moment of Lacanian apperception – looking as children at our own mortality, snared by a cunning combination of architectural decay and ancient photographic apparatus; apparatus that is, in some instances contemporary with the faded interiors of the buildings themselves. Sugimoto seems to invite us to project ourselves in the ruins as metaphors of ourselves in ruins – or maybe I’m just getting old.
But where, you may ask, am I going with all this? For sure, Sugimoto’s work in London is impeccably and impossibly poised and incredibly beautiful, but for all the poise and serenity, ‘The Theaters’ series reinforces a strangely accentuated and asynchronous sense of slow-motion decline against an image captured in the process of bleached-out and frozen fast-forward.
For me, the viewing and residual sensation of the work beyond the imagined retinal screen-burn is redolent of the best Vanitas painting. Mortality, fading beauty, passing glories, catch it while you can, for sic transit gloria mundi.