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Book Review: Dioramas


Book Review Dioramas By Hiroshi Sugimoto Reviewed by Karen Jenkins Standing before the glowing dioramas of New York’s American Museum of Natural History in 1974, closing one eye, Hiroshi Sugimoto saw things differently; sparking a photographic vision in the form of a career-spanning daydream. In his black and white alternate reality, those perfect specimens of bird and bear statically restaged in their ideal landscapes are brought back to life in that sweet spot in-between now and then, true and fake.

Dioramas. By Hiroshi Sugimoto.
Damiani, 2014.
 
Dioramas
Reviewed by Karen Jenkins

Dioramas
Photographs by Hiroshi Sugimoto
Damiani, 2014. 118 pp., 56 black & white illustrations, 10¼x11¼".


Standing before the glowing dioramas of New York’s American Museum of Natural History in 1974, closing one eye, Hiroshi Sugimoto saw things differently; sparking a photographic vision in the form of a career-spanning daydream. In his black and white alternate reality, those perfect specimens of bird and bear statically restaged in their ideal landscapes are brought back to life in that sweet spot in-between now and then, true and fake. In Sugimoto’s reverie, there are no fantastical mash-ups or improbable antics, as he keeps one foot planted in the real, the representational, to be found within these even-keel dramas of gentleman scientists who themselves dreamed of statuesque predators and dignified prey. Hiroshi Sugimoto: Dioramas assembles 56 of the photographer’s large-scale diorama photographs made at New York’s iconic museum and around the United States. It is the first of a new series from Damiani and Matsumoto Editions that will also showcase his series Seascapes, Theaters, Architecture and Lightning Fields.

Dioramas. By Hiroshi Sugimoto. Damiani, 2014.
Dioramas. By Hiroshi Sugimoto. Damiani, 2014.

Ostrich and wart hog face off over a nest of hatching eggs, and lions placidly survey a vast, open plain in a system of quintessential dramas and same as it ever was. Looking to the diorama with its seal-off specimens and strongly suggested point of view, Sugimoto’s works play off of the notion of a subject locked in space and time and evoke the common association between photograph and relic. Yet like a double negative that yields its opposite, his captures of the captured, his representations of these representative forms are meant to reanimate these dead creatures and bygone realms. Requisite to his illusion is the evasion of those markers of museum display, in wooden frame and glass divide. To that end, Sugimoto is zealous believer and mad scientist, staging an elaborate darkened work space outside of each diorama where, clad all in black, he takes on his nemesis, the reflection on glass, in order to transform an encapsulation and suspended animation into a liberation and second chance.

Dioramas. By Hiroshi Sugimoto. Damiani, 2014.
Dioramas. By Hiroshi Sugimoto. Damiani, 2014.

Through the decades of his diorama work, Sugimoto’s photographic daydream was sometimes disrupted, as thoughts of the human intervention into these realms (in real world and recreation) came to the fore. His response was to go further back in time, via those dioramas depicting what felt to him to be a “natural nature” free of the human touch, such as old forests of spruce-fir or giant cactus. In Sugimoto’s daydream, companion to this original state is a future where the natural world breaks free of civilization’s grip to come full circle and regain the upper hand. In the meantime, these dioramas are his precious fossils — natural historical time capsules free of any fusty didactics, all latent potential and uncanny stillness, awaiting Sugimoto’s elegant, photographic reanimation.—KAREN JENKINS
KAREN JENKINS earned a Master's degree in Art History, specializing in the History of Photography from the University of Arizona. She has held curatorial positions at the Center for Creative Photography in Tucson, AZ and the Demuth Museum in Lancaster, PA. Most recently she helped to debut a new arts project, Art in the Open Philadelphia, that challenges contemporary artists to reimagine the tradition of creating works of art en plein air for the 21st century.


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