Hiroshi Sugimoto: Sea of Japan, Oki 1987
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Wednesday, September 21, 2016–Monday, October 31, 2016
NEW YORK CITY | Central to Hiroshi Sugimoto’s work is the idea of photography as a time machine. He understands the medium as a method of preserving and picturing memory and time — and of reckoning with the extraordinary value on the technical aspects of photography. He prints his work with meticulous attention, as is evident in the richness of each elegant image.
Take his signature prints, recently on display in New York this past October. On view in Hiroshi Sugimoto: Sea of Japan, Oki 1987 at Yoshii Gallery were 5 of the seven gelatin-silver prints from his 1987–1996 Seascape series.
A stable atmosphere overpowers vast murky protobiotic waters in this series. The Japanese photographer captures these monochromatic landscape portraits poignantly capture water and air while simultaneously documenting the transcendent quality of their underlying stillness.
Representing another signature style of the artist, these works are known for their equal proportions of water and sky and their lack of human presence. The Seascapes on view range from the North Atlantic Ocean to the Sea of Japan.
He said, “When was the emperor the ruling authority and also held actual power? I think the best example is the time of retired emperor GoToba (1180 – 1239), who ruled during the early Kamakura period (cir. 1185 – 1333).”
Around the end of the Shōwa era, in the fall of 1987 (Shōwa 62), he visited Okinoshima, an island in the Japan Sea. “For long I had wanted to see its seascape,” Sugimoto recalled. “I was unable to forget a poem by GoToba, who personally compiled the imperial anthology of poetry, entitled Shin kokin wakashū.”
I am the Governor of Niijima.
The rough winds above the waves at Oki’s sea,
I make them my own. Blow!
So that is what the spirit of imperial power really is, Sugimoto told himself.
“GoToba composed this poem while in exile at Oki, a result of the Jōkyū War (1221). The exiled emperor thought of himself as the new lord of the island, making the winds his own and subduing the sea to his command. I wanted to experience with my own eyes the sea that GoToba saw. When I arrived on the island, I was struck by the towering cliffs that face the Japan Sea for hundreds of meters. As I stood on top of them, gazing down towards the sea spread out beneath me, instead of composing a poem, I took a picture.”
Inspired by Dada and Surrealism, Hiroshi Sugimoto (Japanese, b. 1948) aims to convey and preserve a point in time through his highly technical photographs, an intention to which he consistently refers in his ongoing series, including “Dioramas” (1976-), “Theaters” (1978-), “Seascapes” (1980-), as well as his series “Portraits” (1999).
At heart, Sugimoto feels largely compelled by architecture, as is evinced by his commission from the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago to produce a series of large-format photographs of significant buildings from around the world. Additionally, he has worked with architects to execute various visions, including a Shinto shrine for the Naoshima Contemporary Art Center in Japan. In 2009, his photograph “Boden Sea, Uttwil” (1993) was selected by U2 to be the cover for their album, “No Line on the Horizon.”
Sea of Japan, Oki 1987 features 5 early works that represent time exposed; they take us to a place that has been unchanged since the beginning of humanity. In these serene seascapes, Sugimoto honors his hero by capturing the transcendent reality of the sea.
Of these works, Sugimoto has said, “Mystery of mysteries, water and air are right there before us in the sea. Every time I view the sea, I feel a calming sense of security, as if visiting my ancestral home; I embark on a voyage of seeing.” —rg