What visual experience can humans today share with our ancient ancestors? Hiroshi Sugimoto, a contemporary Japanese photographer whose work is the subject of the Modern’s current special exhibition Hiroshi Sugimoto: End of Time, considered this question and realized that the seascape probably constitutes the only sight on Earth that has remained constant through the centuries. Landscapes have been cultivated over time, but the seascape has essentially stayed the same.
Sugimoto explores this concept in his Seascapes series by traveling around the world and photographing oceans in a variety of locations. To reinforce the concept that perceptions of the seascape have maintained a certain continuity across the centuries, the artist composes all of the images in this series in exactly the same way: he eliminates all traces of the shoreline, and he balances the water and sky evenly around the horizon line. By removing all traces of the contemporary period and maintaining a compositional uniformity, Sugimoto has abstracted the seascape into a concept about a universal experience for humans that spans both time and geographic location.
Sugimoto’s conceptual approach to photography is evident here through his assertion that the camera is not restricted to documenting a fleeting moment in the here and now, but can also capture what humans were seeing thousands of years in the past and, presumably, will continue seeing thousands of years into the future.