“Hiroshi Sugimoto: Past Tense” is on view through June 8 at the Getty Center, 1200 Getty Center Dr., Los Angeles.
Since the mid-1970s, Hiroshi Sugimoto has used photography to investigate how visual representation interprets and distills history. This exhibition brings together three series by the artist — habitat dioramas, wax portraits, and early photographic negatives — that present objects of historical and cultural significance from various museum collections. By photographing subjects that reimagine or replicate moments from the distant past, Sugimoto critiques the medium’s presumed capacity to portray history with accuracy.
Dioramas: Sugimoto first encountered the elaborate animal dioramas at the American Museum of Natural History after moving to New York in 1974 and began to focus his camera on individual scenes shortly after. Omitting the didactic materials surrounding each display, these works heighten the illusion that the animals were photographed in their natural habitats. While each photograph appears to be a candid moment captured by an experienced nature photographer, the subjects depicted will hold their poses indefinitely.
Portraits: Posed against pitch-black backdrops and framed by the camera in a manner alluding to old master portrait-painting traditions, Sugimoto’s subjects were captured with a nine-minute exposure that illuminates the finely modeled expressions and the sumptuous costumes. These life-sized photographs record likenesses that have been filtered through multiple reproductions of the original sitter. The source material for Queen Victoria’s likeness is taken from a photograph of the royal from the 1890s, around the time of her Diamond Jubilee celebration.
Photogenic drawings: In 2007, Sugimoto visited the J. Paul Getty Museum to study the earliest photographs by William Henry Fox Talbot in the collection. After photographing some of Talbot’s photogenic-drawing negatives, he produced large-scale prints and colored them with toning agents to replicate the hues of the paper negatives. The scale of the enlarged prints reveals the fibers of the original paper, which create intricate patterns embedded in the images. These works connect the artist intimately to Talbot and the origins of photography.
This exhibition is supported by the Japan Foundation.
Also on view at the Getty Center is “In Focus: Ansel Adams,” which opened March 18 and runs through July 20. Devoted to the artistic potential of the natural environment as well as to its preservation, Ansel Adams became one of the best-known photographers in the world. He was also, in the 1970s, considering and actively addressing the issue of what his legacy would be.
In the last five years of his life, Adams spent part of his mornings printing in the darkroom and part of his afternoons writing his autobiography. Many of the photographs he was producing at this time were for the Museum Set Edition of Fine Prints, a select group of photographs chosen from thousands of negatives to represent the best work from his six-decade career.
This exhibition from the Department of Photographs collection draws from a recent acquisition of a Museum Set Edition of Fine Prints donated by Carol Vernon and Robert Turbin. These prints are placed beside others made earlier in Adams’ career, providing an opportunity to see how his printing style changed over the decades, while also offering an understanding of how the artist reflected back on his work in order to shape its future reception.
Museum hours are Tuesday through Friday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Saturday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., closed Mondays. Admission is free. Parking is $15 before 5 p.m., $10 after.