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  • Writer's pictureGreg Lock

Sugimoto Dioramas

My visit to the Hiroshi Sugimoto retrospective at the Hayward art gallery, London. December 15th 2023

‘Logic says they cannot quite be real’: Polar Bear, 1976. © Hiroshi Sugimoto.

Large-format, long-exposure photographs of dioramas found at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

'The stuffed animals positioned before painted backdrops looked utterly fake, yet by taking a quick peek with one eye closed, all perspective vanished, and suddenly they looked very real.’


Using an 8x10 cameras, Sugimoto created exquisite gelatin silver prints. Carefully composed and lit.

This series of photographs were shot at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

He zoomed in to the dioramas to take away any of the periphery elements where the perspective is shifted through foreshortening, in these dioramas the edges are curved spaces. Sugimoto took all sense of perspective out and with it he took away our binocular vision.

Curved diorama found in Museo Nacional de Antropología, Mexico City. (2023)

The photographs of the subjects appear very real, as if the photograph is a photograph of what the diorama depicts - the inherent falseness of the scene is lessened. I am interested in that the fact that you can make a diorama, or a model, appear more realistic through photography. The diorama is supposed to be realistic in the first place, but this re-processing via photography has enhanced the illusion that this is a depiction of how things actually are.

Sugimoto shifted our perception through straight photography.

Dioramas look fake because they are frozen in time; for example if you see a battle scene or a Neanderthal fighting a saber toothed tiger, a vulture devouring a carcass, or a pack of wolves roaming the savanna, you know instantly that the motion is absent. In photography time stands still so photography creates an illusion of time standing still, whereas the diorama cannot do that.

Dioramas are weird to begin with, so Sugimoto is taking the weirdness out and making them look real again.

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