Posts written in June 2008

Photography, the fogged mirror

Photograph by Hiroshi Sugimoto: Canton Palace, Ohio (1980)

Even though the fogged photograph is not in itself pure absence, but rather the eclipsing of an image, we know that what we are seeing is a representation that has been spoilt, a calamity that no technology can ever repair. The image is there, but hidden, ‘fogged’, concealed forever by a curtain of shadow, which no one is capable of raising.
A Short History of the Shadow by Victor Stoichita, in reference to an 1839 cartoon by Cham (Amédée de Noé) from the book L’Histoire de Monsieur Jobard

Segueing nicely from their book on Gothic literature and art, I’ve been plowing through another great edition from Whitechapel’s Documents of Contemporary Art series: The Cinematic. The editor has assembled critical essays on photography, its relation to cinema and video, to temporality, to narrative, to contemporary art practices — all with a fluid sense of motion conducive to making connections across the gamut of the 20th Century art world. Many of the essays touch on photography’s nature as a perverse mirror capable only of capturing what was, the inherent implications about death and impermanence corresponding to much of the Western catalog of art from the past couple hundred years. Other essays deal with the conflict and interaction between still photography and the re-playable, less-bounded world arising from Sergei Eisenstein and his early modernist contemporaries. In short, it’s right up my alley, and I hope the library here gets more from this series soon.

With these thoughts in mind, I was pleased last weekend to find the theater series of photographs by Hiroshi Sugimoto sitting quietly by themselves on a side wall in the otherwise colorful LEWITT×2 show at the Austin Museum of Art. These photographs, seemingly simple shots of the interiors of old American movie palaces, speak volumes about these issues of time, death, photography, cinema, and reflection. The burning white oblivion central to the frame, created by setting up a large format camera with its shutter open through the duration of a feature film, softly illuminates the space surrounding it, highlighting the emptiness as though time itself has run its course. The blur of human motion on the screen over time adds up to a brilliant nothingness, irretrievable. Somewhere on the boundary between conceptualism and zen meditation, these were easily my favorite pieces in the show.

See also:

Photo above: “Canton Palace, Ohio (1980)” by Hiroshi Sugimoto. From the Hirshhorn Museum collection.

Update:

Flipping through the New York Times the day after I posted this, I was very surprised to see this photo from Fred R. Conrad’s Geometry series. Spooky!