"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."- Hiroshi Sugimoto
Hiroshi Sugimoto's photography is not a mere compilation of images of familiar sceneries such as the featured oceans and theatres, but are invitations for a search into history, past time and memories. Using the same photographic process used at the time of its invention, Sugimoto creates gelatin silver prints of varied time exposures. Despite the antiquated process and century old medium, Sugimoto's photography is highly stylized yet abstract. Capturing the complex notion of an entire movie or the vastness of an ocean, Sugimoto's photographs are strikingly diverse dependent on the series and time exposure; on the one hand we find crystal sharp images (Theatres) and on the other, hazy and romantic visions (Seascapes). Traveling between LA and Japan, much of Sugimoto's time is spent in transit, a notion which is addressed in the multiple destinations of his photography. His series Seascapes (1980-2002) captures the romanticism that oceans have in their endless connotations and beautiful surface.
Sea of Japan II, Sea of Japan, Oki IV and Sea of Japan Oki V (lot 521) are all taken of the Sea of Japan, a sea we do not necessarily think we must visit. When people think of traveling to tourist destinations, the image to photographically capture is often a well publicized landmark such as the Eiffel Tower of Paris, the Big Ben of London, Tiananmen Square of Beijing and Mount Fuji of Japan. Sugimoto moves away from standard associations to landmarks and countries but photographs in a documentary style, seeking to capture the Sea of Japan in the most natural state. It is befitting that no landmarks are in sight as all oceans are interconnected, its names and borders are all imposed by mankind. There is no land in sight on the horizon line in any of these three images; only the ocean scene, and us, the viewer. Sugimoto's photography takes us back to a moment before names were given to bodies of water and gives us free reign to create an undeviating connection with the sea.
Photographing the oceans at a slightly elevated angle, Sugimoto's seascapes are significantly subtle and delicate, time does similarly come to a standstill but this impression is evoked via the quiet ambiance produced by the undisturbed image of the sea. The clarity of the small waves is almost an illusion as the capture of the soft white on top and balance it with the small waves is so delicate and fine that one can barely believe this is not a digitally manipulated image. So unruffled is the ocean that from a distance, there is a distinct lateral bifurcation of the image; half the photograph is white while the other half is of a darker shade of grey. With two seeming blocks that make up the photograph, the mind is given ample space and opportunity to dissect the imagery. Equally the composition which is half sky reminds the viewer that we need air in order to breathe and for the ocean organisms to survive; photographing the ocean itself would almost asphyxiate the viewer. Standing in front of the image, with each inhale, we are brought to a quieter calm and slowly seep in the softly captured ripples in the sea and the vaporous mist. Upon even closer inspection, the viewer notices the small movements of the wave and is reminded that the ocean is a living body of water. Time is distorted and we are caught with no sense of progression and thus initiate anticipation for what may linger beyond the horizon or even beneath the calm of the ocean surface.
Water, is considered the essence of life in many religions and cultures; it is used to describe the sanctity of nature, in Hinduism it is believed that water has the power to cleanse the soul and symbolize rebirth, in Zen Buddhism we are encouraged to channel a peaceful mind to flow like the water itself. In literature, water is a motif that brings comfort to a writer; oceans have also been the basis of voyages, scientific expedition and a rich source for jewels and food. For scientists, the oceans are an eco-system they must save. Even with these numerous groups using the oceans as a resource of imagination and materials, it is still vastly unknown and holds many secrets. Civilizations have died by the power of the ocean, there may be cities from centuries past that we may never in our lifetime, find. In Sugimoto's photographs, the ocean and atmosphere seem to be two separate entities and are portrayed like the moment ocean and sky were just created, just about to fuse together and become inseparable like we know the earth to be today.
Capturing a sensation of timelessness is central to Sugimoto's concept of seeing. The seas of his Seascape series all carry a tranquil quality; Sugimoto does not seek to photograph the tumultuousness and disruptiveness of oceans as often as they are captured, but the spirituality that seas have on him, in all seas and oceans throughout the world. There is a subliminal aspect to oceans which Sugimoto's photographs explore, a deep probe into the mysteries of oceans and the endless stories it holds. The ocean scenes we see can be the beginning of time as the most primal state the ocean has ever been, the quiet after a storm or a quiet beach by a great city. The possibilities are endless; were it not for the title which described the particular body of water he is photographing, the viewer is left to think the photograph was the ocean he or she is most familiar with. The infinite choices however are not crippling but comforting to the viewer as a direct relation between the vision of the ocean and our personal recollections can be formed. Sugimoto's suspension of time allows the viewer to make the ocean his own for a frozen moment.