HIROSHI SUGIMOTO: research of theory, ideas and techniques

Notes Key:

Turquoise – direct research notes

Teal – notes contributing to project

Lightning Fields 144
2009 []



    • Relation with and to time – manipulation of time – revealing time in space – time personified
      • still – elongated – stretched
      • Compels his audience to contemplate and question life processes – to focus and concentrate on the procedure rather than the potential end result – revealing life through the perception of time
        • Moments form our existence – they are fleeting in themselves, and hence we have to observe and be present in them
        • Fleeting of time
        • Mortality of time – ethereality of time
    • Organic versus confabulations – what is real? what is reality? how as a population we perceive various realities – how do we differentiate between fiction and truth? how can we be sure of our perception?

    • long exposure
    • open shutter
    • film photography
Lake Superior, Eagle River, 2003



  • “spoken of his work as an expression of ‘time exposed'”
  • “photographs serving as a time capsule for a series of events in time.”
  • “transience of life, and the conflict between life and death.”


  • photographed animal displays within museums of natural history, in order to challenge the “cultural assumption that cameras always show us reality tricking viewers that the animals are real, until they examine the photograph more carefully
    • tricking the audience – as well as their adjusted/conditioned norms, behaviours and views – showing that reality is a fragile concept – can be misjudged/misinterpreted for something else
    • through this he practices and spreads a conscious/aware observational skill – compels his viewers to shift their predetermined perception
  • the photographed animal displays depict a starking contrast and irony between the taxidermic animals and their plastic and falsified surroundings
    • world of contrasts and oppositions
    • placing objects and subjects in unnatural compositions
    • creating a juxtaposition
    • synthetic vs. the natural
      • perhaps in my own work, which focuses on memory, this could also find significance – using synthetic vs. organic memories?
      • SYNTHETIC – “CONFABULATION” – observed from old photographs – a phenomenon where we believe an observed photograph to represent a real memory
      • perhaps explore this field a bit more
      • what could meaning could I create from using these “Confabulations” alongside my authentic memories?
        • placing ‘fake’ memories – in a convincing way, so that it makes sense to both me and the viewer, and is hard to distinguish between reality and memory – loss and displacement – trying to fill in the gaps of memory using photographs as tools – fragility of memory – showing how one information can alter and shift, not just our memory/how we think, but also our personality – which is inevitably affected by a sense of individuality, formed by memories – shape the concept of ‘self’
      • based on a similar idea as the Dioramas
      • photographed wax figures of Henry VIII and his wives – trying to recreate the light conditions that would have influenced the painter of their original oil painting portraits (which then later inspired the wax figures)
      • often taken against a black background
        • falsified surroundings
        • black background gives a strong contrast to the qualities of the figure
      • “a series of photographs based on Gerhard Richter’s paintings of burning candles.”
    • photographed old American movie theatres
    • open shutter and very long exposure – duration of the movie
    • light source – film projector
    • “as part of Sugimoto’s attempt to reveal time in photography
    • he also discovered that “different movies give different brightnesses.”
      • this will depend on the general mood and atmosphere of the story
      • open shutter and exposure – allowing for time to flow by and physically influence the photograph – film photography
      • allowing more information into the lens
        • could link this to night drawing/painting – the more time I spend on a piece the more detail/information it will gain – by detail I mean, detail of form and general existence within that space
        • observing still objects within a dark environment will produce studies of form – perhaps an ESSENCE OF FORM
        • observing object in motion, found in dark environments will result in a study of it’s movement – a pure movement without the excessiveness of information and detail – PURE ESSENCE OF MOTION


    Tyrrhenian Sea, Priano, 1994
    • large format camera
    • varied exposure times – up to 3 hours
    • all the photographs divided in half by the horizon line
    • his systematic methods have been inspired by Sunrise and Sunset at Praiano by Sol LeWitt

    • “a group of images that measure time […] in repetition
      • “photographs engage with repetition on two levels, through representation of the ocean as a rhythmic entity of waves, tides and seasonal changes and also in the repetitive nature of Sugitmoto’s project, image after image of the same black and white composition”
    • time-worn images where the ocean surface doesn’t have ripples so much as permanent creases”
    • “allows the procession of time as something other than narrative dominated by an ending”
      • a collection of information living within that specific time and space – have been bonded together – smoothness effect created as a result – merging – conveying motion
      • only the highly ‘populated’ or concentrated areas of motion are represented and depicted within the photograph
      • whilst the time and space of that scene has ended, the photograph conveys the contrary – depicting still movement that is ongoing
      • information is stretched and elongatedplacement in time – the impact of time – physical impact
      • rather than focusing on the ‘end’ and what it entails, what it looks like – Sugimoto is showing us the process that could lead to it – possibilities that can result in alternative endings
        • we are compelled to think about the processes of being, witnessing and seeing – improve on these
          • in terms of my practice: instead of focusing on the final composition of a piece I should allow each stage to consume me in a way – I should allow each layer to take priority – each layer should receive the same amount of attention and understanding – even the confabulations or more abstract, moving stages which have plenty of emotion attached to them as well – highly personal
        • the notion of creases tends to be closely related to skin – hence also personality and individuality – when he presents a place in relation to time, it shows a moment in its life – therefore gives it characteristics of a living being – anthropomorphising it 
  • “Hiroshi Sugimoto’s fascinating & tranquil Seascapes”: []

    • “Viewers can’t help but be drawn into the open vision, to question and ponder the idea of time. As viewers gaze onto the frozen horizon, they too lose their sense of our concepts of time, space and place
    • “He freezes time; he stills movement, and in some cases makes the seascape into an unrecognizable abyss.”
    • “use of light and dark, a haunting contrast, demonstrates the never-ending battle between life and death. It shows that life is fleeting
    • “embraces shadows and forms”
      • allow the viewer to be immersed in the formed abyss – be engulfed by it and allow their thought to be an active participant in it
      • conveying fragility and mortality of time and place
      • in terms of my practice: I try to convey fleeting through a sense of loss – perhaps create a greater sense of the ‘abyss’ as a representation of: lost time, the mind and the idea of actively wondering through time – whether it is thinking about the past, present or future – for this I would begin with creating an abstract, blurred background, adding and erasing finer details here and there – allowing these marks to show through – only the later layers would actually sustain finer information
      • fleeting moments form our experience – “fabric of experience” []


  • “explores the idea of photography as a method for preserving and modeling time
    • modelling the time according to the individual – for the viewer
    • manipulating aspects of time – time which literally and physically travels, thus impacting, the lens and film of the camera
    • morphing and shifting
    • multi-dimensionality of time – DEPTH


  • “Sugimoto says that photography is not just a means of recording what lies in front of us; it can also be used as a tool for self-interrogation, a process in which a person can question what is real and what is illusion
  • “Sugimoto is like an alchemist who takes something that does not exist and convinces his audience that it is real.”3
    • perhaps in my own practice that is also true: I can question myself and doubt the strength of my memory, is what I’m creating a real or falsified reality that I have previously experienced?
    • begin questioning oneself and one’s own reality




  • Equal division of composition – the horizon separates the elements of air and water
  • Strong contrast – between the two levels – also happening within the lower layer – created by opposition of strong black and strong white
  • Otherness – void – abyss – tranquillity – obscurity – abstract – isolation – alienation – the unknown
  • Smoothness
  • Movement created through this smoothness
  • Tiny marks that construct the ‘creases’ of the sea
  • Sometimes the patches become elongated through the use of single lines, here mostly taking place in the top left corner of the water area
  • Minimalist composition


  • Part of his ‘Lightning Fields’
  • Again very strong contrast between black and white
  • Captured the movement of electricity – nature and natural behaviours of electricity
  • Minimalist composition, where the object is the sole focus – and thus there are only the slightest indications of other forms surrounding it
  • Movement of the ‘other’ is constructed out of very fine line detailing
  • Perhaps begin with a very deep black background and build on top of that? – in order to exaggerate the presence of a void or abyss that to me represents the mind accurately

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s