Japanese Photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto Discusses 220-Photo ‘Seascapes’ Book

Aegean Sean, Pillon (1990)

“I’m very craft conscious,” says the Japanese photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto in conversation with Christie’s International Head of Photographs Darius Himes. “Only artists ascend to the highest technique. You have to train your hands first. I still believe in my hands.” Sugimoto, known for his time-centric photographs of dioramas, abandoned American theaters and seascapes speaks pensively. The direct, meticulous and commanding nature of his work matches that of his presence, which attracted an entranced crowd at Manhattan’s Strand Bookstore.

Sugimoto and Himes spent the hour-long conversation dissecting his craft as true artisans would, celebrating the newly released second edition of Sugimoto’s Seascapes. He describes his vision of sky and water as a form of time travel—a way to capture the ancient world and see it from the perspective of its inhabitants. “It’s the only artistic device I can use to travel through time,” says Sugimoto in regards to his 8×10 large format camera. “The more I think about it, I can share the first consciousness of mine and human beings themselves.”

sugimoto-seascape-north-atlantic-cape-breton-1996North Atlantic Ocean, Cape Breton Island (1996)

Beginning the series in 1980, Sugimoto cites his childhood memories of the sea as inspiration. “One day through the train I saw clear skies and an extremely sharp horizon,” Sugimoto says, recalling a destination two hours from Tokyo. “It still remains strong.” The artist’s images are somewhat algebraic, yet they remain distinct through details. For example, the horizon line cuts directly through the center of each photograph, though the varying exposure times offer both clarity and confusion by way of focus. Some images are sharp, while others are not.

They are primitive—primordial, even. There is a sense of foreboding in Sugimoto’s seascapes: No white caps, clouds, boats or birds. There is no visible life. They are simple and clean, preempting humankind itself. Sugimoto and Himes end their dialogue on a humorous note, with Sugimoto assuring the audience that his seascapes are not taken from the same vantage point. Thunderous applause ensues.

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