Howarth, S. (ed.) (s.d.) Singular Images: Essays on Remarkable Photographs. (1st edition) (s.l.): Aperture.
In his essay on Horoshi Sugimoto’s seascape photograph, Dominic Willsdon (Howarth;99)compares the photograph with Caspar David Friedrich’s painting “Monk by the sea”. He describes Sugimoto’s image as suggesting the Sublime in the same way that Friedrich’s painting does. To me, this is true only in the sense that both suggest something non-human that is much more powerful. Although the titular monk in Friedrich’s painting is quite small in comparison to the overall composition, he is still very much the focal point of the work.
If both works are suggesting a higher power, what sort of power is this? The monk is central to Friedrich’s concern, and the work suggests that although he is (and by extension us as well)an insignificant figure, he is not totally ignored. In Sugimoto’s image though the absence of any human presence tends to suggest that this insignificance is absolute; we do not matter at all. Where Friedrich suggests a higher power that can almost – but not quite – ignore us, Sugimoto’s image is less suggestive of a higher power being present than a complete void. It is much more nihilistic than Friedrich’s painting.
At the same time though, there is more of a suggestion of rest and peacefulness in Sugimoto’s image than in Friedrich’s painting. The endless void is neither good nor bad, and there is no afterlife as such. Just an endless drift through nothing at all. In contrast “Monk by the sea” does suggest that we are not totally ignored; life may have consequences later on.