Is it possible to watch a whole film in a single frame? ‘Habitual self-interlocutor’ Hiroshi Sugimoto has been attempting to distill cinema into a snapshot since the 1970s in a series of photographic experiments called Theaters.

The Japanese photographer’s eccentric endeavour began in a movie theatre in New York’s East Village, where he set up his large-format camera with its shutter fixed at its widest aperture and directed at the screen. After a two-hour exposure, Sugimoto closed the shutter: he had indeed succeeded in capturing the whole movie in a single frame.

Sugimoto’s project continued through the 1980s and 90s, the artist traveling all over the US, to 1920s film theatres, to the more grandiose cinemas of the 1950s, insalubrious downtown dives and drive-ins. The project took the form of a historical and architectural document, as much as an exploration of our relationship with time-based media, exploring the environments for viewing films and how they might stimulates or simulate experience.

Installation view of ‘Le Notti Bianche’ at Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo

In thrall to the silver screen as Sugimoto was, he abandoned the project for 12 years. Until three years ago, that is. Picking up his camera again, this time in Italy, Sugimoto shot theatres all over the country – a continuation of his previous investigation.

Twenty new works are now being presented at the Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo in Turin, including the city’s own historic Teatro Carignano, designed by Benedetto Alfieri and first opened to the public in 1753.

In each of these new photographs, the illuminated screen in the centre casts an inexorable light, an ominous blank space for the audience to project their own minds onto. ‘I have always preferred the reflection of life to life itself,’ auteur François Truffaut once wrote. Sugimoto clearly shares the sentiment.

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