No line of sight, no clear view of the land before. Or perhaps it is the open sea. That pattern — sunlight reflecting off rippling water. Or, nothing. Only grain, blurring slightly into a distance-like fuzz. Trying to find a landmark or signal. A vista muddied by analog smog, like the final playthrough of a worn-down video tape — everything reduced to variations of light and dark, blurred shapes and visual noise. Or a broken radio’s attempt at being tuned. Cycling through harsh and soft, through cascading static.
Within the black ink of the page, the paper white feels like an illumination, just like on that water’s surface lit up by the sun. Others are more obstinate. Difficult to discern, imagination takes over. Dust motes afloat in the air, lit by moonbeams in the dead of night. Organisms under a microscope, lit from below. A line between white and black arcing downwards crudely seems to approximate the hill or mountain’s form, separating the earth from the air.
Less than meaning, less than purpose, is ambiguity of subject. But subject is irrelevant; these are pages to fall into, washes of light and dark, of noise and debris.
If you dig into the backstory behind this book, you will learn that these are closeups from a collection of old glass “magic lantern” slides. A search deep into the marks, the detritus which coats these old negatives, many of which reek of vinegar as their chemical stability worsens. Their deterioration, given new life, may inspire a photographer who enjoys these textures and monochrome forms to think more like Sugawara, and take the opportunity to explore the damaged and the decayed, to find new life and value in such abject things. Pages pull back and forth on that glittering ocean scene and others, zooming in until the water’s pattern is in some sense reproduced by its over-enlargement — photography itself can be here one’s inspiration.
Medium-centric focus may encourage new experimentation, but when prescribed as a tool of interpretation, it can limit one’s view of what photography can do, or what it ought to be.
As an experience, however, The Schwarze Mönch’s best characteristics are, for me, outside of photography. Medium-centric focus may encourage new experimentation, but when prescribed as a tool of interpretation, it can also limit one’s view of what photography can do, or what it ought to be. A beautiful photograph can draw the eye independent of context. A less beautiful one might become beautiful through knowing about how it was made, or who made it. One that is incomprehensible, that doesn’t meet expectations of what a photograph is, can free itself completely of photography’s aesthetic or narrative standards, and fall into a purely visual experience. It’s an adjustment to one’s expectations that takes a moment to get comfortable with, and can feel conflicting when so often one expects to see a something, to interpret message or meaning.
That visual experience is to me closer to experiencing the ambient cascades of William Basinski’s disintegrating magnetic recording tapes, or one of John Cage’s radio-tuned Imaginary Landscapes. Both, like Sugawara, exploit the detritus of their mediums. The purpose of such music, however, is often too the experience of textures typically associated with surfaces such as sandpaper, brick, felt or wood grain, with the ear. Or here, the eye.
Devoid of depth, Sugawara’s pictures have these textures, but they can only be looked at.
Dummy, 2017 (To Be Published 02.2021)