Hiroshi Sugimoto - The Master of Slow Shutter Speed Photography

Updated on August 5, 2016

Hiroshi Sugimoto at the Pace Gallery

A Background on Hiroshi Sugimoto

Born on the 23rd of February in 1948, the Japanese native Hiroshi Sugimoto currently divides his time between Tokyo and New York City, continuing to perfect his photography craft while dabbling in new ventures, such as architectural design.

All of Sugimoto's series have a distinct theme and similar attributes. Mainly using an 8x10 large format camera, Hiroshi Sugimoto specializes in a type of photography called "slow shutter speed" photography.

Born and raised in Japan, Sugimoto began photographing in high school. In 1974, he retrained himself as an artist working on his BFA at the Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles, California. After graduating, Sugimoto moved from California to New York City to continue his photography career.

Sugimoto's Signature Photographic Style

Sugimoto refers to his signature photographic style as "time exposure" experiments - playing with shutter speeds other photographers could never master. His goal through these "experiments" is to capture time through his images - creating time capsules that will last for eternity. Eternity is a constant focus of Sugimoto, who also worked on series that dealt with the issues of life and death - intrigued by the transience of human life.

Sugimoto has said that he draws much of his inspiration from sculpture artist Marcel Duchamp - famous for his sculpture of a urinal in the 1950s. Duchamp's art dealt heavily with the Dadist movement of art. Sugimoto's works are a unique combination of the Dadist movement as well as the Surrealist movement.

The signature style of Sugimoto is his use of an 8x10 large format camera, combined with extremely long exposure times. This style exemplifies the fact that Sugimoto is a true master of photographic techniques and contributed to his fame and recognition as a professional photographer.

More recently, Sugimoto has turned his attention away from the camera - taking time to concentrate on his other passion, architectural design.

Photograph from Sugimoto's "Seascape" Series

Another Image from Sugimoto's series "Seascapes"

From Sugimoto's Series "Seascapes"

Dioramas, In Praise of Shadow Portraits - a Series from Hiroshi Sugimoto

Sugimoto's first large series was titled Dioramas, In Praise of Shadow Portraits," and he drew inspiration for this series from painter Gerhart Richter's series on burned candles. The 1976 photography series Dioramas featured artistic shots of displays from popular natural history museums all across the United States. The final collection featured vultures fighting, exotic monkeys and a polar bear floating on an ice cap. The collection was so successful that the viewer would never be able to tell that they weren't viewing photographs of live animals.

Sugimoto's next series was titled Portraits, and captured wax figurines of famous people throughout history. Funded by the Guggenheim Museum in Denmark, Sugimoto attempted to created lighting that resembled the same lighting that would have been used by the artists who created the figurines. This collection became extremely popular and inspired Sugimoto's third series inspired by Richter - In Praise of Shadows - capturing time lapsed photos of burning candles on a black background.

Hiroshi Sugimoto's "Seascape" Series

It was during the 1980s that Sugimoto continued experimenting with long exposure times. While most photographers consider extended shutter speed shots as photographs with shutter speeds between 1 to 5 minutes in length, Sugimoto experimented with shutter speeds in excess of one hour long. He started a series Seascapes which featured seascapes from all over the world.

Starting with the English Channel and covering all the way to the Black Sea off the coast of Turkey, Sugimoto shot these landscapes with his 8x10 large format camera and shutter speeds up to three hours long. This series is still one of his most popular photographic collections.

Part of Sugimoto's Series "Theaters"

Sugimoto's "Theaters" Series

Hiroshi Sugimoto's Series "Theaters"

Right before the Seascapes series, Sugimoto was working on a large project entitled Theaters. A collection of photographs focusing on drive-in movie theaters, famous American movie places and regular cinemas, Sugimoto used a 4x5 medium format camera combined with exposure times that lasted the entire length of the film being showed at the theater.

The result was an extraordinary collection of images in black and white with a luminous screen that lit up the venue, accentuating the surrounding architecture. Sugimoto's first series to truly make a name for him as a master of slow shutter speed photography, Theaters is considered one of the first photographic collections to successfully capture time in motion.

Sugimoto's Series "Theaters"

Sugimoto's Influence on Architecture

In the 1990s, Sugimoto started photographing architecture - a new venture for the artist. His first architecture series focused on the "Hall of Thirty-Three Bays" in Japan. Sugimoto asked the staff of the building to remove all of the artifacts from the building and shot from a high vantage point, editing out all of the structural features of the building so that the focus of the images turned out to be the thousands of Bodhisattva sculptures showcased throughout the hall.

The Museum of Contemporary Art commissioned Sugimoto after the completion of his collection. His job was to capture large format photographs of notable buildings all across the United States. His series Architectures ended up as blurred views of modernist architecture. This particular series has been exhibited at numerous art museums across America.

Not only is Sugimoto famous for his photography capturing well-known architectural works, but he is also a highly acclaimed architecture himself. Sugimoto has designed architectural structures ranging from small diners to massive art museums.

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Hiroshi Sugimoto's Most Recent Work

In 2003, Sugimoto started his series titled Joe. What started as a job to capture the Pulitzer Foundation of the Arts turned into a collection of images focusing on a sculpture by Richard Serra titled Joe. The photographs were developed by Sugimoto using silver gelatin on aluminum panels. The Foundation later published the work in a book that covered the entire series.

Sugimoto began his series Stylized Sculptures in 2007 - focusing on distinctive garments placed on headless mannequins. His photographs captured the geometrical shapes used in modern fashion pieces.

In 2009, Sugimoto began a new series using his extended shutter speed style. The series title Lightning featured captivating slow shutter shots of lightning bolts. The intriguing part of this series is that none of the shots are of lightning bolts captured in nature. For the entire series, Sugimoto used a 400,000 volt generator to create electrical sparks that he used to create his photographs.

The band U2 chose to use one of Sugimoto's images from his series Seascapes for their 2009 cover shot for their album No Line on the Horizon.


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    • Stevennix2001 profile image

      Steven Escareno 

      6 years ago

      interesting hub.


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