Tranquil Photographs of Empty Baroque Movie Theatres

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Teatro Comunale di Ferrara, Ferrara 2015, Il Conformista© Hiroshi Sugimoto

Hiroshi Sugimoto’s ethereal images of empty cinemas will inject a much needed sense of calm into your Monday morning

Hiroshi Sugimoto’s photographs of historic theatres detail intricate stonework and towering pillars that seem more befitting of castles and palaces than an evening at the pictures. Sugimoto began this series by photographing cinemas and drive-ins across the USA, but his most recent images, taken across Italy, are quintessentially European. The heavy velvet curtains and flickering candles that surround the illuminated cinema screens add more than a touch of Baroque to the viewing experience.

Sugimoto is interested in the way that photographs preserve a moment in time amid the transience of our lives and this philosophy is particularly intriguing when applied to his theatre series. Creating long exposure shots by opening his camera shutter to expose the film for the entire length of the feature, the only lighting he used was omitted from the screens themselves, which explains the ethereal quality of these black and white images. In this way, Sugimoto captures a chunk of time in one single shot, which is fascinating when linked to the idea that by watching a moving film we are already partaking in the manipulation of chronology. 

The way in which the photographer uses light in unconventional ways to pick out details that we might not usually notice provokes us to interrogate our perception of time and space. Sugimoto’s images are reminiscent of the golden age of cinema, when going to see a film was a luxury, and treated accordingly. The juxtaposition of blank white screens with ornate carvings and plush interiors refers to the way that our cultural narratives are weaved from a combination of history and technology, and causes us to pause and consider the layers of time that are threaded through our every moment. A much needed dose of tranquility on a hectic Monday morning. 

Le Notti Bianche runs at Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo in Turin from May 16 until October 1, 2017.