Monday, July 9, 2007

Behind the Scenes: Hiroshi Sugimoto at the DeYoung

Last week, I had the supreme pleasure and surprise of being invited to the press preview for the Hiroshi Sugimoto retrospective at the De Young Museum. I say pleasure because I have always loved Sugimoto’s photographs for their masterful beauty and powerful concepts. And I say surprise, because I was quite shocked (thrillingly so) to get an email invitation from a media relations officer at the Fine Arts Museum to attend the press preview with the artist, because she had read my blog entry below about the Legion of Honor. When I started my blog months ago, I never realized the potential for such benefits from it – it made my week.

So last Friday found me in a museum conference room with four kinds of coffee, cucumber sandwiches, press packets, 40 or so members of the press, a museum director, one of the exhibit’s curators, and the artist, Hiroshi Sugimoto himself. After introductory remarks, we all headed to the galleries – which Sugimoto described as his “spookiest” venue of this traveling exhibition yet. Sugimoto designed the installation, and it is quite remarkable. The lighting is such that the large photographs (many of them close to 4 x 6 feet) seem to glow as if illumined from within while the dark walls evaporate into shadow. It is as if you are standing inside a giant camera – each photograph becomes an aperture through which his ideas are imprinted onto the viewer.

As curator, Kerry Brougher, said so aptly, “Sugimoto is a photographer of ideas.” In particular, I learn from him how photography can expand and collapse our sense of time. For example, in this shot below of a drive-in theatre, the shutter was left open for the full duration of the movie, recording every second, and yet in the end, the compilation of all those moments is simply bright light. It seems fitting then that when I snapped the photo above, holding my camera high above the other heads around me, Sugimoto was illuminated by the flash of someone else’s camera - he is rendered a white, bright blur himself – burning with ideas.

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