Hiroshi Sugimoto: Lightning Fields and Photogenic Drawings
Breathtaking exploration of both photography and science
This article is from 2011.
To say that Sugimoto's contribution to the Edinburgh International Festival is striking would be an understatement. This is the first time these works have been displayed in Europe. The Japanese photography pioneer’s huge analogue 'Lightning Fields' prints, made using a Van der Graaf generator to create bursts of static electricity which are then captured on photosensitive black and white film, are exhibited in tandem with prints taken from original negatives by the inventor of photography Henry Fox Talbot ('Photogenic Drawings').
Lightning Fields is a breathtaking exploration of both photography and science, based on experiments by Fox Talbot in the 19th century. Each piece is a stark blackness punctuated by the intricate swirling and tendrils of light captured at the instant it hits the specially prepared film. There are elements of nature in the patterns that are left, with the marks sometimes hazy, sometimes simply disappearing into infinity. Despite the artificial background of the effect, there is no less awe at witnessing the works – and the depth and detail allows a close glimpse of nature reined-in and glorious.
Sugimoto's ‘Photogenic Drawings’ are calm by contrast, and more a one-man mission to track down and produce prints in homage to one of his heroes than an individual exploration. The two parts to the exhibition go hand in hand, though, both using original and direct processes to produce the end result. The misty past, people, plants and buildings, were the subjects of the day, and Sugimoto has leant heavily on the old techniques to faithfully reproduce what is seen here. Each chemical (some banned by various governments in ages past) has been mixed as per the old recipes (such as those used for cyanotype) and carefully applied.
Additional to the main exhibits are well-written explanations of not only the process behind the works, but also a brief retrospective of Sugimoto's history as a photographer. Make the most of this rare chance to see the work of a legend – much of the artist's time is now spent in architecture and theatre in his native Japan.
Modern Two (Previously Dean Gallery), 624 6200 until 25 Sep, £7 (£5).