Conceptual Movie Theaters of Hiroshi Sugimoto

Concept: Photograph vintage movie theaters using the light reflected from the screen during a film’s full duration as the primary illumination.

In the late ’70s, New York-based Japanese photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto traveled around the US with the idea of photographing old movie palaces in a particularly rigorous fashion. He would set up his view camera to face the screen from dead center of each theater, sometimes from the main floor and sometimes from the balcony, wait for the house lights to be turned off and the current feature to begin, then open the shutter until the film’s end credits began to roll.

The cumulative effect of all those projected frames of light (a two-hour film is comprised of 172,800 images) is complete whiteness on the screen and sensationally theatrical illumination of the surrounding space. The result is somehow familiar without being a condition we can ever actually experience in real time.

One of the additional effects of seeing still image after still image of these spaces when photographed in such a precise manner is an appreciation for the wide variety of theater architecture, unique to the genre, that existed at the time.