NEW YORK - Keith Miller had the pleasure of visiting with Go Sugimoto to talk about his work and his upcoming exhibition at M.Y. Art Prospects. The show will run from September 6 - October 13, 2007. His work will also be featured in "Making a Home: Japanese Contemporary Artists in New York," Japan Society, New York from October 5, 2007 - January 13, 2008.
To see more about Sugimoto, click here for his Spotlight Profile.
Keith Miller: In your series, Paper-Work, you make low contrast photos of white paper on a white background. Many of the photos seem, at first glance, to be almost completely white, then they slowly reveal a deeper structure. Can you talk about this imagery?
Go Sugimoto: I think it takes some time to be able to find what's there in this body of work. If you don't look carefully, you almost won't get it. I think we have many ways of looking at things. My work requires people to see more carefully and by doing so they will get more in the end. When a viewer sees my work on the wall, they see something but they are not sure exactly what or how the images were made or what is really going on. By spending more time with my pieces, people find out what is happening and what they are.
Also, some people are good at looking at things three-dimensionally, and some two-dimensionally. Well, this is another story. With my photos I would like to reach a very quiet state of mind, like when you wake up: you just feel happiness without any specific reason. I would like to have that kind of mental state with my work.
KM: How did you come to choose this subject matter in this style?
GS: First of all I wanted to break the rules of conventional black and white photography. Usually these prints tend to have rich blacks and whites and decent details in the shadows. However, since I love black and white gelatin silver prints, I wanted to use them like brush and paint. This is how I came up with this idea of challenging myself to make photos that use very high key tone. I also wanted to make some kind of work from something close to me...something we have next to us. I believe that finding things close to us can affect and help improve our life when we face small or big problems in our realities. Having different ways of thinking always helps us to get out of the hole we will possibly be in. I have often had ways of thinking that could tend to be black and white. I could also say that is like being extreme.
KM: Your Paper-Work photos are set up images but they have the feel of something natural, organic - observed yet also metaphysical. How would you describe these photos in relation to the idea of photography, as nature observed vs. set-up photos?
GS: I am glad to kown that you think my Paper-Work images have a natural, organic feel. I like to be natural and organic myself, like a spring breeze. I wish I could be like that by myself. Thanks.
I question photography itself quite often. I think most photos are set up since you have a camera and you point it at other people. In that way we are already creating a situation. I am sure that if you are in a war and taking pictures, that may be a different story. But otherwise, aren't we making a situation by ourselves between the subjects? I am not saying that all photography is set up but I think we are creating the situation rather than taking the realities there.
I spend a lot of time coming up with shapes made out of thelox paper and I think about how they will look after being taken by the camera. I have a habit of keeping little pieces of paper or folding paper with my little memos in my pocket. Actually I found out that my brother has the same habit. I would say that Paper-Work came from having this habit and playing with them in the subway, especially when I am reading what I wrote and folding them and thinking about my memo. This is how I ended up using Thelox paper.
KM: In your night photo series you take long exposures of urban settings in recognizable cities (New York City, Brooklyn). But, they seem anonymous through the blur of the hand-held long exposure and framing. Adding to this, you set them to music in a video as if they are frames from a movie. Do these photos work toward a broader narrative? Can you explain the story they tell?
GS: Yes, I tended to make narratives with this body of work after having quite a few images. To be honest, I enjoyed just making the photos (not taking them). This is a good point. I would always try to say, I make my photos, not take them, because I am making the composition and making decisions as to how my grainy and long exposure will affect the image and situation I am in. It’s not just a snapshot of landscapes of New York City, Brooklyn or other cities where I have been. I was trying to make my own stories as placeless and timeless. It could have been many different places. After having some images, I thought I could create a story with my camera like a short movie. I realized at that time there are a lot of buildings that had been knocked down. It’s hard for people reading this to imagine what my narratives are like without looking at my 10-minute slide show.
KM: In this series, one of your main tools is extreme contrast and extreme blacks, elements almost completely absent from the Paper-Work images of paper. How would you describe the difference in working method and conceptual approach between the two bodies of work?
GS: I change my contrast to be able to express what I would like to make. It’s just a technique. It’s hard to explain this, but I think we have opposite sides inside of us. I didn't feel funny about doing something really opposite because it felt natural to use this effect as my tool to express myself.
KM: How does technique affect your work?
GS: I don't think that I have very good technique because I am not doing anything very special or technical. I am just thinking differently about how to use them to do my work. It is very simple actually. You would be surprised at how I do them. I do like work that is made without high technique or technologies. I like people who make work from what they have next to them. I like the idea and I think they are great artists.
KM: Can you name a few artists whose work has influenced you?
GS: Well...many, many artists…alphabetically… David Hockney, Les Krims, Christian Marclay, Chema Madoz, Kunie Sugiura, , Hiroshi Sugimoto, Sam Samore, this might be too many…let’s edit this later...and I wish Hiroshi Sugimoto was my father...just kidding, if he was it could have been a disaster...too big a mountain to climb over. Actually Kunie Sugiura has just published a book called Artists and Scientists from Nazraeli Press. It’s a great book. Please take a look at it.
KM: There is often a desire to read an "Eastern" approach into the work of Japanese or Asian artists. For example, one might read a "Zen-like" calm into your paper photos; in the night photos one might feel the airiness of great Chinese landscapes, as the spaces seem to melt into one another. Do you see your work as having any relation to these kinds of issues?
GS: Yes, I do. I consider myself as a Hybrid Asian Artist since I have been here in New York since 19 years old. It’s in my D.N.A. How could we stop this? I am a Japanese guy. It’s also my nature to be natural and organic, maybe poetic too. I say funny things from time to time.
KM: In our conversation you mentioned that you have a two-dimensional concept of space and, despite making paper objects, you conceive of them only as the final flat photos. Can you elaborate?
GS: I don't know how I got this way of seeing. I am not good at gymnastics...I have a good example here. I have a friend who is really good at gymnastics. He can do jumps and turns like an Olympic athlete. It’s unbelievable. His work has a real sense of three-dimensional space and he is very good at sculpture. However, I do not have the sense of jumping and turning which is taking the space as three-dimensional. I have always ended up with something flat all my life. This is my nature.
KM: Your new photos are of flowers. Tell us about them. Why flowers?
GS: Flowers and plants have been always good friends of mine, ever since I was a child. My grandmother, who I spent a lot of time with in my childhood, loved flowers and plants. She even had a name from one of the flowers. I just think this is a basic object that has always been around me.
I titled my show “Day Dream in My Garden” because flowers and plants are one of the most necessary things for me in my life. I often feel that I am surrounded by them and feel happiness without any specific reason. When I had a hard time in my life, I found flowers and plants on the street and they gave me such feelings of comfort. Also, in photography, a lot of people have used flowers. As I am working with photography, I wanted to challenge it… I wanted to do my own way with these same objects.
ArtSlant would like to thank Go Sugimoto for his assistance in making this interview possible.