Hiroshi Sugimoto

Hiroshi Sugimoto is a photographer, architect and designer of considerable skill and unique perspective. His work is heavily influenced by the Dadaist and Surrealist schools of art. He uses a large 8 x 10 camera with exceptionally long telephoto lenses which takes a considerable amount of technical skill.

At first glance many of his photographs might seem very old, but not especially remarkable. However many of them are practically optical illusions. Sugimoto took on a series of photography projects where instead of photographing live subjects he instead took pictures of museum dioramas and wax figures. He manipulated the lighting and photo quality so that the artificial subject matters were almost indistinguishable from the people and creatures they were meant to replicate. Especially with the human wax compositions, he made the photos look as if they were from long ago time periods corresponding with the subject matters (which were primarily people of historical importance). I think this is a very original and creative idea, although it could easily have been done badly by someone with less skill in photography, so his project’s success was critically tied to his execution of the idea. I found it especially interesting to look at his photos of the Chamber of Horror exhibit from Madam Tussaud’s Wax Museum. He describes having taken the photos of various scenes of executions and murders in 1992, and expresses regret that the exhibit had since been removed for political incorrectness. I myself happened to visit London in 1992, and Madam Tussaud’s Wax Museum was the very first place I visited after getting off the plane. The Chamber of Horror exhibit stuck very firmly in my memory as my first impression of London. I had not been aware that the museum had removed it. It was neat to see the same wax figures I had seen in the past, but the black and white quality of the photos made the imagery even more ghastly than they had appeared in person.

One of my favorite projects shown in Hiroshi Sugimoto’s portfolio was the one titled “Appropriate Proportions”. Here Hiroshi Sugimoto shows off more than just his photography skills. He was called in as the designer to recreate a deteriorating Shinto shrine. Instead of basing the reconstructed shrine on an existing historic structure, Hiroshi chose to create an original design from scratch, drawing his inspiration from the more ancient Shinto principles that were used before the shrines became more formalized.

I found the photos of this shrine he participated in reconstructing really fascinating. The center of the shrine is a large slab of rock, which was deemed to be a place where the Shinto deity drew power from. There are two sets of stairs, one leading up to the rock slab from the ground, and another leading down into an underground rock chamber. The stairs are made of glass, but instead of being constructed precisely the glass has a very organic shape to it, so rather than appearing to be glass the steps look more to me as if they were formed from ice. I think the overall effect is very beautiful and definitely captures a feeling of appreciation for nature, in spite of the steps man-made construction. I wish however that this particular project had had more photographs shown. I did not feel like I got a complete enough view of the reconstructed shrine from only 3 images. I would have very much liked to see the entire shrine in greater detail, especially the portal described at the end of the underground tunnel which apparently has a view of the sea from the side of a mountain.

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