Hiroshi Sugimoto: Time Machine at Hayward Gallery

Famous contemporary Japanese photographer best known for his ethereal black and white photography; Hiroshi Sugimoto opened an awe-inspiring exhibition at Hayward Gallery.


I went to the VIP viewing event on 19 October where we got the opportunity to taste five different Sake at Japan House London’s pop-up Sake Bar (more about Japan House London at the end of this article)



Sugimoto: Time Machine at Hayward Gallery | @anothermag #haywardgallery #hiroshisugimoto #japanhouselondon #sugimoto #photography

♬ 史诗振奋大气 – 满世昌


Hiroshi Sugimoto


Hiroshi Sugimoto - Time Machine

Photo: Urban Adventurer



Born in Tokyo in 1948, Hiroshi Sugimoto is one of today’s most significant contemporary photographers, famous for his ‘Seascapes’ photo series that captures the tranquil ocean as it connects the infinite sky on the horizon.


It all started with a train trip.


One of Sugimoto’s most significant experiences was a train trip with his family. He and his family were on the way home back to Tokyo when the young boy caught sight of the sea from the train’s window.


This was the moment that later determined his artistic journey as a photographer: capturing a single moment in the mortal world.


Hiroshi Sugimoto’s new exhibition, ‘Time Machine’ is a thought-provoking yet playful documentation of capturing the ephemeral moment and preserving it for the eternity.


Throughout the over 50 years of his career, Sugimoto was inspired by experiments and subjects from the early history of photography.


He captured abandoned movie theatres with glowing white screens, portraits, architecture, lighting, conceptual forms & mathematical models, opticks, and of course seascapes.




Hiroshi Sugimoto - Seascapes

Photo: Urban Adventurer



“Can someone today view a scene just as primitive man might have?” – asks Sugimoto.


As our ancestors were elevating from animal to a human state and first gained consciousness, the view of the sea might have made a strong impression on their minds.


Sugimoto’s ‘Seascape’ project started in the 1980s and has become a lifetime project.


When taking photos of the sea, he carefully places his camera on a cliff, making sure that the sky and the sea divide the picture evenly. He makes sure that nothing disturbs or interrupts the photo. No birds, no boats, no distant shores. Sugimoto’s compositions exclusively focus on the interaction between the sea and the sky.




Hiroshi Sugimoto - Theatres

Photo: Urban Adventurer



In 1976 Sugimoto set up his camera in a New York cinema and first captured the glowing white screen compressing the film into one single still image.


The empty cinema with the vast glowing white screen creates an eerie atmosphere where the viewer of the photo suddenly feels small and realises their own insignificance in the cosmos.


Sugimoto is playing with light and dark, reality and fiction, life and death, and perfectly encapsulates them in one single moment, that moment contains the whole universe.


Lightening Fields


Hiroshi Sugimoto - Lightning Fields

Photo: Urban Adventurer



Sugimoto’s inspiration for ‘Lightening Fields’ originally came from a technical problem in photography. When pulling out the sheet from the holder, the static electricity occasionally sparked the film and destroyed the image. “I used to hate it.” – Sugimoto admitted. He, however, decided to embrace it and turn this phenomenon to his benefit by making it happen intentionally.


The results are dramatic photographs. Some look like a grandiose lightning stroking the ground; others resemble organic forms as seen under microscope.




Hiroshi Sugimoto - Portraits

Photo: Urban Adventurer



Instead of capturing famous faces of his cultural moment, Sugimoto borrowed wax figures of historical people from Madam Tussauds to take eerie lifelike photos of them against of a black backdrop.


In this way, he was able to depict famous and historical figures who lived across a span of 500 years next to each other.


This is how we see incredibly lifelike portraits, just as they were taken today, of Queen Elizabeth II, Henry VIII, Salvador Dali and Oscar Wilde in one room.




Hiroshi Sugimoto - Opticks

Photo: Urban Adventurer



Inspired by Sir Isaac Newton’s experiments with prisms, Sugimoto made his own experiment with a polaroid camera. “The world is filled with countless colours, so why did natural science insist on just seven?” – he asks.


After almost an entire decade of experimentation, Sugimoto enlarged his Polaroid images into chromogenic form “What I wanted to do was capture not a form, but the colours themselves.” – he says believing he has “successfully created a new kind of painting.”




Hiroshi Sugimoto - Arthitecture

Photo: Urban Adventurer



Since 1997, Sugimoto photographed over 90 modernist buildings around the world. He deliberately makes blurry images of the buildings to capture their ideal form. The form that might have appeared in the mind’s eye of their designers before the detailed image began to form.


The Eifel Tower, the Golden Gate Bridge and the World trade Centre are all on display at Hayward Gallery.


 Conceptual Forms and Mathematical Forms


Hiroshi Sugimoto - Conceptual and Mathematical Forms

Photo: Urban Adventurer



Sugimoto claims that he was never good at mathematics. However, in 2002, after seeing and handling with mathematical models in the University of Tokyo, the plaster models ignited his creativity and interest.


He began making his own mathematical models after having photographed 24 objects for his ‘Conceptual Forms’ series in 2005. He took very close photos of the small plaster models that made the models look monumental in the photographs.


‘Sugimoto: Time Machine’ exhibition is huge! You will see yourself exploring lots of different rooms revolving around different themes. Make sure you visit all of the rooms in the basement, ground floor and upstairs and allow yourself time to submerge into the awe-inspiring frozen moments captured to be preserved forever.


Thank you for Hayward Gallery, Japan House London, An0ther Magazine, and Southbank Centre for the invite!


Japan House London’s Pop-Up Sake Bar


Japan House London Pop-Up Sake Bar

Photo: Urban Adventurer




We had the opportunity to taste five different Sake at Japan House London pop-up Sake Bar before and after viewing the exhibition. We tasted sparkling, cloudy, nutty, and dry & spicy Sake and got the chance to learn more about how to taste Sake properly to make the most out of it. Kampai!


Located on Kensington High Street, Japan House London is a cultural destination offering the very best of Japanese art, design, gastronomy, innovation, and technology.


They regularly host free exhibitions, events and talks about Japanese culture and pop culture and they offer a library anyone can use for free.


Find upcoming events and exhibitions here.


They have an amazing shop full of authentic hand-crafted products, a café, and a restaurant upstairs, called AKIRA serving amazing bento boxes.


 Practical Info


Hiroshi Sugimoto - Time Machine Exhibition

Photo: Urban Adventurer




11 October 2023 – 7 January 2024



Hayward Gallery | Southbank Centre, Belvedere Rd, London SE1 8XX

Opening Times

Mon & Tue: CLOSED

Wed – Fri: 10am – 6pm

Sat: 10am – 8pm

Sun: 10am – 6pm


£18 | members go free

Book your ticket here





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