JTF (just the facts): A total of 15 black and white photographs, framed in black and matted, and hung against white walls in the main gallery space. All of the works are gelatin silver prints, made between 1979 and 1983 and either vintage or printed in 2015. All of the prints are sized roughly 15×22 (or reverse), and the prints are either vintage (with no edition) or available in editions of 10. A small catalog of the exhibit, with an essay by Robert C. Morgan, is available from the gallery for $15. A monograph of this body of work was published in 1997 by Shazow Kobo. (Installation shots below.)
Comments/Context: One of the Czech photographer Josef Sudek’s most durably important bodies of work emerged from something seemingly ordinary – simply looking out the window of his studio. In the pared down view out to the single tree in his small interior garden, Sudek discovered an almost limitless range of visual variation – drippy wet days when the glass was spotted and streaked with rain, bright sunny mornings when the blossoms burst with vigor, cold winter greys that weighed down his mood with heaviness, and quieter moments of introspection, when the tree felt like a patient old friend. That this single subject could keep him so intensely engaged for the period of several decades was a testament to his consistent photographic inventiveness, and to the singular power of light to transform the mundane into the magical, assuming someone is paying close enough attention to notice. In that single window, Sudek found both the personal and the eternal.
For the Japanese photographer Hitoshi Fugo, his doorway to artistic fulfillment wasn’t to be discovered in a window, but in his kitchen, in the form of an old, battered frying pan. Over the course of 15 years, Fugo lovingly looked at his iron skillet, reveling in its scuffs, scratches, and dents, and allowing the arcs of its curved edges and the reflective surfaces of its greased form to expand to encompass the mysteries of the universe. And if you think that a humble, everyday frying pan couldn’t possibly offer such heady flights of Minor White-style mysticism and abstraction, think again. Light can be a powerful sorcerer, when controlled with such care and attention.
Fugo’s black-and-white images are dominated by flares, reflections, and other manifestations of light on the wet surface, often made active through small movements that create blurs, highlights, sparkles, and misty scrims. When light bounces off larger areas of the oily slick, areas of perfect whiteness dance across the blackness of the pan, with sinuous edges, fuzzy striations, and zig zag bends animating the angles and geometries that are created. The circular edge of the pan is Fugo’s primary tool for composition, and he uses it with measured precision, many of the resulting images offering echoes of something vaguely identifiable. Like a composer trying to build a melody out of a limited number of notes, Fugo has turned the limitations of his subject to his advantage, finding its inherent strengths and then encouraging those attributes to blossom.
This is where Fugo’s works draw us in and seem to expand beyond their still life boundaries. There are gestural swoops of tiny spots, like shooting stars or trailing fireworks. There are galaxies of circular forms that resemble mottled planets and bubbled surfaces that look like cratered moonscapes. And there are thin arcs of light against deep darkness that feel like the fiery edges of ephemeral eclipses and unknowable solar formations. He seems to have found the entire universe in this ordinary pan, from the immensity of deep space to the intimacy of waves on the shore or fireflies in the backyard.
Conceptually, I think there is something wonderfully elegant about constructing images that feel so fluidly natural and expansively symbolic out of such modest materials. Fugo’s intense photographic attention to his pan has unlocked a surprisingly vibrant trove of visual potential hiding within. He has been able to successfully bridge out from the grounded reality of the specific object and transform it into something far more open-ended, ambiguous, and dare we admit it, beautiful. As an example of the power of sustained photographic looking, his long term project is both quirkily unexpected and quietly sublime.
Collector’s POV: The works in this show are priced as follows. The vintage prints are priced at either $4000 or $4500 each while the modern prints are $2500 each. Fugo’s work has little secondary market history, so gallery retail remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.