Sugimoto has spoken of his work as an expression of ‘time exposed’, or photographs serving as a time capsule for a series of events in time. His work also focuses on transience of life, and the conflict between life and death. Sugimoto is also deeply influenced by the writings and works of Marcel Duchamp, as well as the Dadaist and Surrealist movements as a whole. He has also expressed a great deal of interest in late 20th century modern architecture.
His use of an 8×10 large-format camera and extremely long exposures have given Sugimoto a reputation as a photographer of the highest technical ability. He is equally acclaimed for the conceptual and philosophical aspects of his work.
Exerpts from his description of selected works from his website:
Joe: Like a work of architecture, this sculpture has to be experienced by walking around and through it… Joe is different according to the time of the day, the season, and the viewer’s position. It is in the visitor’s memory that the sculpture “takes shape” in the most complete way…Using a photographic technique involving areas of extremely soft light and blurred darkness, he sculpted views that seem like aspects of visual memory: the arts of photography and sculpture overlap and memories of the two-and the three-dimensional mix.
Revolution: For a long time it was my job to stand on cliffs and gaze at the sea, the horizon where it touches the sky. The horizon is not a straight line, but a segment of a great arc. One day, standing atop a lone island peak in a remote sea, the horizon encompassing my entire field of vision, for a moment I was floating in the centre of a vast basin. But then, as I viewed the horizon encircle me, I had a distinct sensation of the earth as a watery globe, a clear vision of the horizon not as an endless expanse but the edge of an oceanic sphere…There remains… a great divide between comprehending (i.e.explaining) the world and being able to explain what we ourselves are. And even then, what we can explain of the world is far less than what we cannot ― though people tend be more attracted by the unexplained. In all this, I somehow feel we are nearing an era when religion and art will once again cast doubts upon science, or else an era when things better seen through to a scientific conclusion will bow to religious judgement.
Seascapes: Water and air. So very commonplace are these substances, they hardly attract attention―and yet they vouchsafe our very existence…Let’s just say that there happened to be a planet with water and air in our solar system, and moreover at precisely the right distance from the sun for the temperatures required to coax forth life. While hardly inconceivable that at least one such planet should exist in the vast reaches of universe, we search in vain for another similar example. Mystery of mysteries, water and air are right there before us in the sea. Every time I view the sea, I feel a calming sense of security, as if visiting my ancestral home; I embark on a voyage of seeing.
Lightning sheets: The idea of observing the effects of electrical discharges on photographic dry plates reflects my desire to re-create the major discoveries of these scientific pioneers in the darkroom and verify them with my own eyes.
Architecture: I decided to trace the beginnings of our age via architecture. Pushing my old large-format camera’s focal length out to twice-infinity―with no stops on the bellows rail, the view through the lens was an utter blur―I discovered that superlative architecture survives, however dissolved, the onslaught of blurred photography. Thus I began erosion-testing architecture for durability, completely melting away many of the buildings in the process.
Chamber of Horrors: People in olden times were apparently less fearful and grievous of death than we are today. To some it was even an honor to be chosen by the gods as a sacrificial victim, a liberation from the sufferings and strife of this life…Must we moderns be so sheltered from death?