Theater Photographer Collected Quick Moments From A Film And Freezed Them Again | Arts

Opera theater


In this series, Lagniappe presents each week a different work from the collection of the New Orleans Museum of Art, with commentary by a curator.

Hiroshi Sugimoto began making his “Theaters” photography series over 40 years ago, exploring what it would be like to shoot one whole movie at a time.

To capture this image of the Cabot Street Cinema in Beverly, Massachusetts, Sugimoto set up his large-format camera on the balcony of the dark theater and focused it on the screen. When the projectionist started the film, Sugimoto opened his camera shutter and left it open for the duration of the film.

Depending on the length of the film (say 90 minutes to 2 hours), over 170,000 individual photographs that make up that film are printed on the Sugimoto negative. The cumulative light reflected on the screen shines white and strangely illuminates the empty theater.

The photographer noticed that different types of film photograph differently because they emit different amounts of light during a long exposure. A comedy, for example, is brighter in the theater than a sad or dramatic film.

Sugimoto began making these works in great American cinema palaces (the Cabot Cinema was also the site of a long-standing magic show) and expanded to include drive-in screens, abandoned theaters, and Italian operas. Works like this reflect Sugimoto’s interest in the architecture of such spaces, while exploring the relationship between photography, imagination, memory, and the passage of time.

We often think of photography’s ability to freeze time or “capture” a moment, but the film can be understood as a reboot or reanimation of our world.

Sugimoto’s photographs collect all the fast-moving moments in a movie and hold them still, allowing us to simultaneously look back and forward in time.

Weegee remains one of the few photographers in history to achieve simultaneous success both in the popular news media and in the artistic community.

In this series, Lagniappe presents each week a different work from the collection of the New Orleans Museum of Art, with commentary by a curator.

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Brian Piper is the Assistant Curator of Photographs for the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation at the New Orleans Museum of Art.