a photographer’s eye: sugimoto

Categories: art
Hiroshi Sugimoto seascape
Hiroshi Sugimoto seascape for U2: No Line on the Horizon
The following was originally published on drawsketch.about.com, with images via Getty (for which I don’t have permission outside of About.com). I have recovered some comments from the original post.
Sadly I’ve yet to see the work of Hiroshi Sugimoto for myself, only accessing it online and in reproduction – and you never really get the full impact of truly great photography until you’re up close and personal.
Sugimoto has an incredible eye. Some of us make art based on what we see, and some on the images inside our heads, and sometimes life and art intersect and you can’t tell the difference. Sometimes our medium often makes the translation onto paper inadequate – we see, we imagine, but can’t quite express. With a great artist, whatever the medium, you get a sense that what you are seeing is their truth – not a faltering imitation. Sugimoto-san has a pure vision, and such mastery of his medium that it becomes invisible.
I could ramble for an hour about composition and tone and light but ultimately it would be a lot of hot air. Go and check out his website, and if you are fortunate enough to live near a major gallery, do go look for his work.


February 11, 2009 at 1:06 am

(1) Babci says:

You’re kidding, right?

February 11, 2009 at 3:38 am

(2) Helen South says:

Babci, I guess taste is a personal thing. I most certainly am not kidding. I find Mr Sugimoto’s landscape photography particularly mesmerizing. I’m also interested in his ideas about vision itself and the workings of the camera… the language of the photograph.

Would you like to be more specific about why you don’t take my comments seriously?

February 12, 2009 at 4:56 pm

(3) Babci says:

Yes, I would. This has nothing to do with taste. Anyone who has ever lived near any coast, anywhere, has taken photos that look EXACTLY like these.

If you are trying to describe water and fog to someone who has NEVER seen a large body of water, his photos might be instructive, but they are hardly inspiring. Your phrase “the language of the photograph” makes no sense to me. Even allowing for poetic license, the term “language” in this context is nonsensical artbabble.

February 12, 2009 at 11:27 pm

(4) Helen South says:

Ah, of course. Art must be instructive. Well I guess that rules out about 50% of most art ever created. And images must be unique. We’d better turf about 75% of contemporary photography collections then.

Photography IS a language. It is a visual language familiar to anyone who has opened a first-year Art History Book. It is a way of looking which had a massive impact on painters and ultimately the way we ourselves look at images and our surroundings.

Sugimoto experiments with focus and timing and, much as a painter might make an abstract painting ‘about’ the paint itself, sometimes makes photos that are ‘about’ the process of taking the photograph.

The language of the photograph is a visual form which refers to taking a still image through a single lens – usually with a limited depth of field, and with particular effects of light, and the limitations of the recording medium, and bounded by the dimensions of the film itself.

The image as recorded by the camera is very different from the image that might be recorded by a patient human eye.

February 17, 2009 at 10:10 pm

(5) Babci says:

You misunderstood me…I didn’t say art is or should be instructive. I meant his photos looked like snapshots used to illustrate “water” and “fog” for someone who had never seen either. They went no further than that. Phony pretense in discussions of art has never made any sense to me. It’s like Starbucks’ “baristas” saying “grande” and “vente” instead of large and small…it’s just coffee, for gawds sake…these are just photographs…they don’t “say” anything. Look at them…you can like them…you can love them…you can hate them…but you cannot “hear” them.

February 18, 2009 at 12:50 am

(6) Helen South says:

Babci, I don’t like phony pretense either. I’ve ranted many times right here on the Drawing site about artspeak, so I understand where you are coming from. So it makes it more frustrating that I can’t properly express that my feelings about this art are genuine, and I’m utterly convinced that the photographer is genuine too.

I think, though I’m only guessing, that you are from that sort of postmodern school of thinking that says an object ‘just is’ and disregards any of its maker’s intentions, or its audience’s emotional baggage.

Why do we love or hate a photograph? Because it ‘just looks nice’? For me personally it goes much deeper than that. Some images resonate, and some don’t, for sure.

Consider a performance of Pachelbel’s Canon. Take the tempo a fraction too slow, make the notes a fraction too mechanical, and you’ve got a boring, funeral, turgid piece. Get the tempo just right, with sensitivity, and each phrase has a falling inevitability that continually carries the listener forwards through each next phrase.

It’s the same with photographs. It’s a subtle difference between a blank, impenetrable fog on a dead sea, and a deep, mysterious blanket settling on unusually quiet waters. Some of these photographs interest me less than others, to be sure. But his photograph of the Ionian sea in particular draws me inwards. I find myself leaning forward to peer through the mist.

I envy him being a photographer – attempting to create something like this with pencil would be immensely frustrating.

I’m not trying to be phony or grand – that’s what I see in his works.

One of my printmaking lecturers, Barry Weston, did a piece once that included the text “You cannot share wonder, only show its objects.” I’m sorry I cannot share my sense of wonder with you.

April 5, 2009 at 9:12 pm

(7) Barry says:

i have always thought that the most difficult part of attempting to explain the language of the visual via the language of words to be one of the most frustrating aspects of communication……let alone explaining/teaching!
both parties involved in such a conversation require an eye for the subtleties rather than the dramatics of the human condition….an inquiring eye, one not use to being given the answer at the end of the 1 hr tv show….the work requires a response similar to what G.K.Chesterton called the “tremendous trifles of life”….to be able to discern in a seemingly trivial or ordinary image some moving revelation of motive or reassurance to the individual…. and in that rare moment, hopefully, a depiction of that tender and delicate art which penetrates the appearance of being… to be reassured of the elusive causes of happiness, grief and life’s wonders….
some of us stand in wonder before such images……. some of us stand in frustration and anger at not being told the answer…..immediately.

November 11, 2009 at 12:43 am

(8) Bernard says:

“One only sees that which one observes, and one observes only things which are in the mind.”


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