Hiroshi Sugimoto was born in 1948 in Japan, and divides his time between Tokyo and New York City. Working in photography since the 1970s, his multidisciplinary practice includes sculpture, performing arts production, and architecture. His work explores history and temporal existence by investigating themes of time, empiricism, and metaphysics. Grounded in technical mastery of the classical photographic tradition, he examines the ways photography can record traces of invisible but elemental forces.
Sugimoto’s artistic career has been marked by philosophical curiosity and a serial, analytical approach. For his earliest photographic series, Dioramas, which he began 1974, Sugimoto photographed displays in the American Museum of Natural History and elsewhere. Through the lens of his large-format camera, the museums’ painted backdrops and taxidermied animals are transformed by photography into enigmatically life-like scenes. Theaters, perhaps his most iconic series, comprises long exposure photographs made in classic movie houses around the world. Each exposure is made during the projection of a film, producing a glowing white screen in the center of a darkened theater and compressing time into a single image. His Seascapes, which span more than four decades, record the most elemental scene—sky and water bisected by the constant line of the horizon, a view that Sugimoto associates with the dawn of consciousness.
More recent series include Portraits, made in wax museums such as Madame Tussauds, which highlights the ways in which photography is used to record history and human nature. The photographs in Architecture isolate the recognizable forms of iconic modernist architecture, dissolving the lines between time, memory, and history. In Praise of Shadow records a candle as it burns down, creating a long-exposure record of flickering light over the course of a night.
An interest in the fundamental rules that govern natural phenomena has been a recurring theme in Sugimoto’s work. His Conceptual Forms depict 19th- and 20th-century mathematical models, while Lightning Fields, which also draws from the history of science, translates early research in electricity into dramatic images by applying a 400,000-volt current of electricity directly to film. The large-scale photographs in Opticks depict the color of light observed through a prism, paying particular attention to the spaces and gaps between hues, and drawing from early experiments with the science and experience of light.
Recent exhibitions include a major retrospective of the artist’s work at the Hayward Gallery in London, on view until early 2024, and Hiroshi Sugimoto Honkadori Azumakudari at the Shoto Museum of Art in Tokyo until November 12, 2023. Earlier this year, Hiroshi Sugimoto – The Descent of the Kasuga Spirit, curated by the artist, took place at Kasuga-Taisha Shinto shrine in Nara, Japan. In San Francisco, his 68-foot sculpture Point of Infinity was installed on Yerba Buena Island, commissioned by the Treasure Island Arts Program in partnership with the San Francisco Arts Commission. In 2019, Sugimoto was commissioned to redesign the Sculpture Garden at the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C., expanding and enhancing the site. His plans were approved in 2021, and the project is currently under construction.
In 2009, Sugimoto founded the Odawara Art Foundation in central Japan, with the goal of advancing traditional Japanese and international contemporary performing arts, and conveying the essence of Japanese culture to a wider audience. In 2017 the Foundation opened the Enoura Observatory. Designed by Sugimoto, the site includes a stage made from optical glass and a narrow, hundred-meter long gallery which frames the sun’s rays on the morning of the summer solstice.
Sugimoto’s photographs are in the collections of prominent museums around the world, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Museum of Modern Art, New York; National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC; National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa; National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Tate Gallery, London; and many more.
His work has been the subject of numerous monographs, and Hiroshi Sugimoto has been the recipient of prizes and awards including the National Arts Club Medal of Honor in Photography (2018); The Royal Photographic Society’s Centenary Medal (2017); Isamu Noguchi Award (2014); Officier de L’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (2013); Praemium Imperiale Award for Painting (2009); PHotoEspaña Prize (2006); Hasselblad Foundation International Award in Photography (2001); and the International Center of Photography’s Fifteenth Annual Infinity Award (1999). He is a recipient of fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation (1980) and the National Endowment for the Arts (1982).