What is Hiroshi Sugimoto’s Theaters photography project all about?

Hiroshi Sugimoto - Theaters - Trylon, New York, 1976
Hiroshi Sugimoto – Trylon, New York, 1976

Hiroshi Sugimoto biography

Hiroshi Sugimoto was born in 1948 in Tokyo but later moved to Los Angeles to pursue photography at the Art Centre College of Design. He settled in New York, where he soon began his study of conceptual photography. Over the years, Hiroshi Sugimoto has become one of the most critically acclaimed artists and photographers of his generation.

What influenced Sugimoto?

In the 1970s, Sugimoto was heavily involved with the minimal and conceptual art scenes in New York. During this period, he would use the camera to engage with various concepts around him, and this involvement influenced his style. It is also what allowed him to explore photography further beyond its obvious documentary uses.

Sugimoto’s style

Through his precisely balanced images, Sugimoto’s best-known works are inspired heavily by repetition, having worked on his body of work that features photographic illusions for most of his career. Today, he is best known for his photographs that consist of black and white photos of classic movie theatres built in the 1920s and 1930s, as well as the ruins of abandoned movie theatres in various American states.

The theatre photos

Theatres drew upon repetition and was characterized by the utilization of black and white film, analog processes, as well as long exposures. The lighting, the gleaming white scene that looked like a portal from another dimension, and the objects in the images are some of the components that helped to give the popular series a surreal appearance. For the series, Sugimoto photographed more than 100 movie houses and drive-in theaters over a period of four decades. In the past few years, he started taking photos of Italian opera houses and abandoned theaters, thus expanding the existing project.

Video: Hiroshi Sugimoto talks about his book Theaters, 2016

49 min 39 sec

How he started the project

Sugimoto created the Theatre series in 1978 by photographing old American movie theatres and drive-ins. He was only 28 years old then and had been working on projects that make exposures of varying durations for some time. Using his large-format camera and the projector of the running movie as the light source, Sugimoto would capture entire films in a single still. The result of each full-length movie was a luminous white box that gently displayed the architectural details of all the spaces he photographed.

His moviation in his own words

My dream was to capture 170,000 photographs on a single frame of film. The image I had inside my brain was of a gleaming white screen inside a dark movie theater. The light created by an excess of 170,000 exposures would be the embodiment or manifestation of something awe-inspiring and divine.

– From the book Hiroshi Sugimoto: Theaters

Analysis

Sugimoto’s works aimed to create suspended states by changing how time was represented and how individuals perceived it. His photographs were designed to encourage the audience to observe the world from a different perspective by stimulating focused attention on a single element.

According to Sugimoto, the camera has the capacity to make elements that the naked eye cannot see, such as time and the effects of space, more visible. As such, the series helped to provoke vital questions regarding the link between time and photography, as well as the mysterious nature of human reality.

Photos

1970s
Hiroshi Sugimoto - Theaters - U.A. Rivoli, New York, 1977
Hiroshi Sugimoto – U.A. Rivoli, New York, 1977
Hiroshi Sugimoto - Theaters - U.A. Playhouse, Great Neck, New York, 1978
Hiroshi Sugimoto – U.A. Playhouse, Great Neck, New York, 1978
Hiroshi Sugimoto - Theaters - U.A. Walker theatre, New York, 1978
Hiroshi Sugimoto – U.A. Walker Theatre, New York, 1978
Hiroshi Sugimoto - Theaters - Radio City Music Hall, New York, 1978
Hiroshi Sugimoto – Radio City Music Hall, New York, 1978
Hiroshi Sugimoto - Theaters - Cabot Street Cinema – Massachusetts – 1978
Hiroshi Sugimoto – Cabot Street Cinema – Massachusetts, 1978
Hiroshi Sugimoto - Theaters - Tampa, Florida, 1979
Hiroshi Sugimoto – Theaters – Tampa, Florida, 1979
1980s
Hiroshi Sugimoto - Theaters - Marion Palace, Ohio, 1980
Hiroshi Sugimoto – Marion Palace, Ohio, 1980
Hiroshi Sugimoto - Theaters - Akron Civic Theatre, Ohio, 1980
Hiroshi Sugimoto – Akron Civic Theatre, Ohio, 1980
Hiroshi Sugimoto - Theaters - Canton Palace, Ohio, 1980
Hiroshi Sugimoto – Canton Palace, Ohio, 1980
Hiroshi Sugimoto - Theaters - Goshen, Indiana, 1980
Hiroshi Sugimoto – Goshen, Indiana, 1980
Hiroshi Sugimoto - Theaters - Ohio Theater, Ohio, 1980
Hiroshi Sugimoto – Ohio Theater, Ohio, 1980
Hiroshi Sugimoto - Theaters - Palms, Michigan, 1980
Hiroshi Sugimoto – Palms, Michigan, 1980
1990s
Hiroshi Sugimoto - Theaters - Civic Theater, New Zealand, 1991
Hiroshi Sugimoto – Civic Theater, New Zealand, 1991
Hiroshi Sugimoto - Theaters - Radio City Music Hall, New York, 1978
Hiroshi Sugimoto – Regency, San Francisco, 1992
Hiroshi Sugimoto - Theaters - Orinda Theater, Orinda, 1992
Hiroshi Sugimoto – Orinda Theater, Orinda, 1992
Hiroshi Sugimoto - Theaters - Paramount, Oakland, 1992
Hiroshi Sugimoto – Paramount, Oakland, 1992
Hiroshi Sugimoto - Theaters - Cinerama Dome, 1993
Hiroshi Sugimoto – Cinerama Dome, 1993
Hiroshi Sugimoto - Theaters - La Paloma, Encinitas, 1993
Hiroshi Sugimoto – La Paloma, Encinitas, 1993
Hiroshi Sugimoto - Theaters - El Capitan, Hollywood, 1993
Hiroshi Sugimoto – El Capitan, Hollywood, 1993
Hiroshi Sugimoto - Theaters - Avalon Theatre, Catalina Island, 1993
Hiroshi Sugimoto – Avalon Theatre, Catalina Island, 1993
Hiroshi Sugimoto - Theaters - Al Ringling Theatre, Baraboo, 1995
Hiroshi Sugimoto – Al Ringling Theatre, Baraboo, 1995
Hiroshi Sugimoto - Theaters - Proctor's Theatre, New York, 1996
Hiroshi Sugimoto – Proctor’s Theatre, New York, 1996
Hiroshi Sugimoto - Theaters - State Theatre, Sydney, 1997
Hiroshi Sugimoto – State Theatre, Sydney, 1997
Hiroshi Sugimoto - Theaters - Kino Panorama, Paris, 1998
Hiroshi Sugimoto – Kino Panorama, Paris, 1998
2010s
Hiroshi Sugimoto - Palais de Tokyo, Paris, 2014
Hiroshi Sugimoto – Palais de Tokyo, Paris, 2014
Hiroshi Sugimoto - Wolf Building Rooftop, New York, 2015
Hiroshi Sugimoto – Wolf Building Rooftop, New York, 2015
2010s – Abandoned Theaters
Hiroshi Sugimoto - Theaters - Everett Square Theater, Boston, 2015
Hiroshi Sugimoto – Everett Square Theater, Boston, 2015
Hiroshi Sugimoto - Theaters - Franklin Park Theater, Rashomon 1950, Boston, 2015
Hiroshi Sugimoto – Franklin Park Theater, Rashomon, 1950, Boston, 2015
Hiroshi Sugimoto - Theaters - Michigan Theater, Detroit, 2015
Hiroshi Sugimoto – Michigan Theater, Detroit, 2015
Hiroshi Sugimoto - Theaters - Paramount Theater, Newark, 2015
Hiroshi Sugimoto – Paramount Theater, Newark, 2015
2010s – Opera Houses
Hiroshi Sugimoto - Teatro Carignano, Turin, 2016, Seating side
Hiroshi Sugimoto – Teatro Carignano, Turin, 2016, Seating side
Hiroshi Sugimoto - Teatro Comunale di Ferrara, Ferrara Summer Time, 2015
Hiroshi Sugimoto – Teatro Comunale di Ferrara, Ferrara Summer Time, 2015
Hiroshi Sugimoto - Teatro dei Rinnovati, Siena, Stazione Termini, 2014
Hiroshi Sugimoto – Teatro dei Rinnovati, Siena, Stazione Termini, 2014
Hiroshi Sugimoto - Teatro Scientifico del Bibiena I Vitelloni, Mantova, 2015, I Vitelloni, Screen side
Hiroshi Sugimoto – Teatro Scientifico del Bibiena I Vitelloni, Mantova, 2015, I Vitelloni, Screen side
Hiroshi Sugimoto - Theatro Carignano, Turin, 2016, Screen side
Hiroshi Sugimoto – Theatro Carignano, Turin, 2016, Screen side
Hiroshi Sugimoto - Villa Mazzacorrati Ie Notti Bianche, Bologna, 2015
Hiroshi Sugimoto – Villa Mazzacorrati le Notti Bianche, Bologna, 2015

All images Hiroshi Sugimoto unless otherwise noted.

 

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