Feature

Hiroshi Sugimoto

Sugimoto’s photography wrestles with the role of the camera.

Hiroshi Sugimoto creates some of the spookiest art I've ever seen, said Robert Taylor in the Contra Costa, Calif., Times. 'œWalking into the show in San Francisco is like visiting some 19th century 'Dr. Sugimoto's Chamber of Curiosities.'' The lights are dim, the walls are painted black, and haunting faces from the past loom from many of his photographs. Henry VIII and his six wives stare out at us, while nearby a Neanderthal family poses for the camera. That such photographs are, in fact, impossible lends them an air of 'œmystery and trickery.' What Sugimoto actually has done is photograph wax figures of the royal retinue at Madame Tussaud's museum in London, and a Neanderthal diorama at New York's Museum of Natural History. Surprisingly, learning the trick doesn't ruin the artwork's dark amusement.

Sugimoto's photographs could easily be taken as postmodern game-playing, said Kenneth Baker in the San Francisco Chronicle. Actually, though, they're just plain old documentary photographs of surreal artifacts in the real world. 'œThe easy irony of his images would reduce them to punch-line art, did they not also spur us to think about the camera's place in a longer tradition of representation and human self-image.' The Henry VIII photograph, for instance, subtly echoes Hans Holbein's paintings of the actual king. Many other photographs testify to Sugimoto's restless experimentation, from pictures of movie houses to out-of-focus images of the World Trade Center to 1,001 photographs of gilded Buddhas. But his best images have no people or buildings at all. Several photographs of oceans, clearly in debt to abstract painting, often seem little more than a series of tonal gradations, as water gives way to sky and cloud. In these seascapes, 'œSugimoto realized without trickery the idea of the camera seeing through time to past centuries or deep into prehistory.'

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