From Seascapes to Electric Shocks with Hiroshi Sugimoto

Hiroshi Sugimoto discusses his work with Asia Society Museum Director Melissa Chiu in New York on Oct. 14, 2010. (Suzanna Finlay/Asia Society)

NEW YORK, October 14, 2010 - Celebrating the book launch of Asian Art Now, co-authored by Asia Society Museum Director Melissa Chiu and Benjamin Genocchio, Asia Society welcomed Japanese artist Hiroshi Sugimoto for a candid conversation with Chiu about his work.

Sugimoto recalled that he first picked up a camera as a boy in order to indulge a childhood obsession with trains, but as a young man became "more serious about photography," investing in a large-format camera and engaging in more conceptual approaches. He garnered worldwide attention for his photographs of dioramas at the American Museum of Natural History and then for his minimally composed, long exposures of seascapes. 

In his most recent photographic work, Lightning Fields (2009), he has done away with the camera altogether, capturing the flash of electricity directly on film. His inspiration for the project came from one of the early inventors of photography, Henry Fox Talbot, who in fact gave up his experiments in electricity to further develop his photographic method. "I've picked it up where he left off," remarked Sugimoto. The intersection of science and art has always fascinated him, he explained, in that they "share the same kind of curiosity."

Regarding his experiments with 400,000-volt electric shocks in the darkroom, Sugimoto admitted, "It is very dangerous... but I survived!" 

Chiu pointed out that while Sugimoto is an internationally acclaimed artist, his work also contains local inflections, reflecting his Japanese heritage and engaging with themes of history, time, and religion. She said this a common characteristic among many of the contemporary Asian artists featured in Asian Art Now

Reported by Natalie Hegert