Hiroshi Sugimoto: Time Machine

Hiroshi Sugimoto: Time Machine
Installation view of Hiroshi Sugimoto, Opticks series. Chromogenic prints. Photo: Mark Blower. Courtesy the artist and the Hayward Gallery.

Hiroshi Sugimoto: Time Machine
11 October 2023 – 7 January 2024
Hayward Gallery
Southbank Centre
Belvedere Road
London SE1 8XX

Full price standard: £18
Concessions available & Southbank Centre Members go free

From 11 October 2023 — 7 January 2024, the Hayward Gallery presents Hiroshi Sugimoto: Time Machine, the largest survey to date of the internationally renowned artist. Over the past 50 years, Hiroshi Sugimoto has created some of the most alluringly enigmatic photographs of our time: pictures that are precisely crafted and deeply thought-provoking, familiar yet tantalisingly ambiguous.

Featuring key works from all of the artist’s major photographic series, this survey highlights the artist’s philosophical yet playful inquiry into our understanding of time and memory, and the ambiguous character of photography as a medium suited to both documentation and invention. 

Hiroshi Sugimoto: Time Machine
Installation view of Hiroshi Sugimoto, Dioramas. Silver gelatin prints. Photo: Mark Blower. Courtesy the artist and the Hayward Gallery.

The exhibition also includes lesser-known works that illuminate the artist’s interest in the history of photography as well as in mathematics and optical sciences. Often employing a large-format wooden camera, mixing his own darkroom chemicals and developing his black-and-white prints by hand, Sugimoto has repeatedly re-explored ideas and practices from 19th century photography, including subjects such as dioramas, wax figures and architecture. In the process, his work has stretched and rearranged concepts of time, space and light that are integral to the medium.

Time Machine commences with a selection of Sugimoto’s black-and-white photographs of natural history dioramas, a series he began in the mid-1970s. The Diorama photos draw attention less to the natural world than to its theatrical representation in museums, whilst at the same time conjuring what the artist has called the ‘fragility of existence’. 

Installation view of Hiroshi Sugimoto, Polar Bear, 1976. Silver gelatin print. Photo: Mark Blower. Courtesy the artist and the Hayward Gallery.

The subject of time is also explored in two subsequent bodies of work featured in the exhibition: shot in movie palaces as well as drive-ins, Sugimoto’s Theaters (1976 – ) capture entire films with a single long exposure, thus compressing all the dramatic action that appeared on screen into a single image of radiant whiteness. His renowned Seascapes (1980 -), which depict evenly divided expanses of sea and sky unmarked by any trace of human existence, are equally beguiling in their temporal reference, evoking the immediacy of abstract painting even as they speak to Sugimoto’s interest in focusing on vistas that, as he remarks, “are before human beings and after human beings.” 

For Architecture (1997 – ), a series of deliberately out-of-focus studies of iconic modernist buildings – ranging from the Eiffel Tower to the Twin Towers –  Sugimoto displays the expansive ambiguity that informs his art, at the same time conveying a sense of the visual germ of an idea in an architect’s imagination, as well as fashioning ghostly images of what he has described as “architecture after the end of the world.” For his subsequent Portraits (1999) series, meanwhile, the artist focused his camera on wax models of famous historical figures from Madame Tussauds; rendered more life-like in black-and-white, figures ranging from Queen Elizabeth II to Oscar Wilde and Salvador Dali take on a disarmingly lively appearance, underscoring the camera’s potential for altering our perception. As the artist has noted, “However fake the subject, once photographed, it’s as good as real.”

Hiroshi Sugimoto: Time Machine
Installation view of Hiroshi Sugimoto, Opticks series. Chromogenic prints. Photo: Mark Blower. Courtesy the artist and the Hayward Gallery.

A final section of Hiroshi Sugimoto: Time Machine focuses on photographs that evoke different notions of timelessness, including his Sea of Buddha (1995) series, which portrays an installation in a 12th century Kyoto temple featuring 1001 gilded wooden statues of Buddha; and Lightning Fields (2006 – ), spectacular camera-less photographs created by exposing sensitised paper to electrical impulses produced by a Van der Graaf generator. 

The exhibition is accompanied by a fully-illustrated, 216pp catalogue with newly commissioned essays and an illustrated chronology, co-published with Hatje Cantz. Texts by Ralph Rugoff (on Dioramas), James Attlee (on Theaters), Mami Kataoka (on Seascapes), Lara Strongman (on Portraits), Geoffrey Batchen (on Lightning Fields), Edmund de Waal (on Sea of Buddha), Margaret Wertheim (on Conceptual Forms), Allie Biswas (on Opticks) and David Chipperfield (in conversation, on Architecture). PDF review copies will be available from August 2023. 

The show is set to tour internationally in 2024, at the UCCA Center for Contemporary Art (23 March – 23 June 2024) and The Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (2 August – 27 October 2024).

Hiroshi Sugimoto: Time Machine is curated by Hayward Gallery Director Ralph Rugoff with Assistant Curators Thomas Sutton and Gilly Fox, and Curatorial Assistant Suzanna Petot

©2023 Hiroshi Sugimoto, Hayward Gallery