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Hiroshi Sugimoto

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Name: Hiroshi

Surname: Sugimoto

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Table of Contents

Table of Contents

As you peer into your camera's viewfinder, the world around you becomes framed by the edges of the lens. For renowned Japanese photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto, looking through the viewfinder is a way to see beyond the surface of things and capture time. 

Throughout his 40-year career, Sugimoto has become known for his artistic experiments in long-exposure photography and conceptual portraiture. His minimalist and thought-provoking photographs have been featured in exhibitions at major museums around the globe, cementing his status as one of the most influential contemporary photographers. 

His life's journey from Tokyo to New York as an avant-garde artist in a new culture shows the power of following one's creative passion against the odds. Sugimoto's photographs illuminate the wonder and poignancy in even the most mundane subjects through his masterful use of light and composition. His life's work reminds you that inspiration can be found anywhere if only you open your mind to see the world through a different lens.

This retrospective of Sugimoto's life and work gives insight into the mind of an artist who uses photography to explore profound ideas about time, memory, and human consciousness. Through the lens of his camera, Sugimoto offers a window into a world where past, present and future coexist.

Hiroshi Sugimoto BIOGRAPHY

Hiroshi Sugimoto
Image Credit: Musee Magazine

Early Life and Inspiration: Hiroshi Sugimoto's Formative Years in Japan

Born in 1948 in post-war Tokyo, Japan, Hiroshi Sugimoto was exposed to traditional Japanese culture and arts from an early age. His father was an accomplished Noh theatre actor, instilling an appreciation for the dramatic and symbolic in young Hiroshi. He was also inspired by Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines, with their minimalist esthetics and spiritual resonance.

In 1970, Sugimoto earned a BFA in Art and Design at St. Paul's (Rikkyo) University in Tokyo. His studies focused on modern Japanese art, yet he was increasingly drawn to more contemporary and conceptual forms of artistic expression. After visiting an exhibition of Marcel Duchamp's work, Sugimoto found his calling in the avant-garde.

In 1974 Sugimoto moved to Los Angeles to study photography at Art Center College of Design. He was enthralled with the medium's capacity for capturing transient moments and temporal passage. His early photographs incorporated long exposures to convey a sense of time and trace the movement of light. Sugimoto's studies in L.A. marked a pivotal turning point as he embraced photography and began experimenting with its artistic potential.

Sugimoto's lifelong fascination with the relationship between stillness and transience, the ancient and modern, and perceived opposites would define his unique visual sensibility and style. His formative years in Japan instilled in his work a meditative and minimalist quality. Sugimoto's photography evokes the universal and sublime by blending Eastern and Western philosophies.

What is Hiroshi Sugimoto known for?

Hiroshi Sugimoto
Image Credit: Art Forum

As one of the most renowned photographers of our time, Hiroshi Sugimoto has led a life and career dedicated to capturing beauty and meaning through his lens. His minimalist black-and-white photographs of theatres, seascapes, and wax figures explore themes of time, memory, and humanity's relationship with the past. 

Sugimoto's iconic images offer a glimpse into the profound ideas that have shaped his artistic vision over decades of work. Sugimoto's story teaches us that a creative life filled with meaning and purpose is available to anyone bold enough to pursue their vision. All you need is an open and curious mind to find the beauty in every moment.

Career highlights

Hiroshi Sugimoto
Image Credit: Modernism Gallery

Artistic Style and Career

As a contemporary minimalist photographer, Hiroshi Sugimoto is known for his artistic style, focusing on simplicity and subtlety. His photographs are characterized by a formal and conceptual purity that evokes a sense of timelessness.

Sugimoto's photographs utilize a minimalist style to capture the essence of his subjects. His images are devoid of unnecessary details, drawing the viewer's attention to the essential elements of form and space. Sugimoto's minimalist style is influenced by traditional Japanese esthetics that value simplicity, imperfection, and naturalness.

Career and Exhibitions

Sugimoto's work has been featured in exhibitions worldwide, bringing greater recognition to his unique minimalist style. 


Sonnabend Gallery in New York City

First solo exhibition


Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C.

It hosted a mid-career retrospective of Sugimoto's work.


Sugimoto's photographs are held in the permanent collections of prestigious institutions such as: 

  • Museum of Modern Art in New York

  • National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

  • Tate Modern in London

Sugimoto's minimalist photographs and influential career have cemented his status as an important contemporary artist. His ability to infuse profound ideas into simple images that transcend time and place has captivated audiences worldwide and inspired subsequent generations of artists. Sugimoto's life's work reminds us that artistic mastery can be achieved through focus, subtlety and a disciplined minimalist vision.

What is Hiroshi Sugimoto's Photography Style?

Hiroshi Sugimoto is a renowned Japanese photographer known for his distinct minimalist style. Sugimoto's style is characterized by long exposures and large-format cameras, resulting in highly detailed and sharp photographs. 

One of his most famous series is "Seascapes," he captures the ocean and horizon with a perfectly straight and even line, creating a serene and ethereal effect. Sugimoto's photographs often have a timeless quality as he explores themes of time, memory, and the passage of time. He has also ventured into other subjects such as architecture, theatres, and natural history museums, all photographed with his signature precision and attention to detail. 

Hiroshi Sugimoto List of Work

Hiroshi Sugimoto
Image Credit: The Artling

Major Works and Accomplishments: Seascapes, Theaters, and Architectural Photography

Hiroshi Sugimoto is best known for his minimalist photographs of seascapes, theatres, and architecture. His seascapes feature a horizon line that divides the frame in two, with the sea and sky meeting at a single point. 


“North Sea, Utsire”

These works evoke a sense of serenity and timelessness.


“Tyrrhenian Sea, Capri”


Sugimoto's eerie photographs of abandoned theatres also garnered him international acclaim. His minimalist and conceptual approach gives the structures an almost Platonic perfection.


This series depicts ornate movie palaces with a blank cinema screen aglow, suggesting the passage of time and the transience of images. The museums, like the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.,and the Museum of Modern Art in New York hold pieces from this series.


This series includes photographs of landmarks like the Eiffel Tower, and the World Trade Center towers. By framing and lighting each structure identically, Sugimoto aims to highlight the mathematical and geometric relationships between the buildings.


Major Retrospectives and Accolades

Over his decades-long career, Sugimoto has received numerous honours recognizing his artistic contributions. Sugimoto provides a glimpse into humanity's relationship with time, memory, and visual perception through his masterful photographs.


He was named an Officer of the French Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.


He received Japan's Praemium Imperiale for the Arts.

His works have been the subject of major retrospectives at:


Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden


Mori Art Museum

What is Hiroshi Sugimoto Inspired By?

Hiroshi Sugimoto draws inspiration from a variety of sources in his artistic practice. One of his primary sources of inspiration is the concept of time and history. Sugimoto often explores the passage of time through his long-exposure photography, capturing timeless and ethereal scenes. 

He is also inspired by the natural world, particularly the ocean and its infinite expanse. The sea serves as a recurring motif in his work, representing both the passage of time and the sublime power of nature. Sugimoto is also influenced by philosophy and spirituality, drawing on concepts such as Zen Buddhism and impermanence. His work often invites viewers to contemplate existential questions and the transience of life. 

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