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Hiroshi Sugimoto’s “Portraits” Photograph Series Recreates Holbein Paintings

Japanese photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto thinks of himself not only as a technically skilled photographer, but as a conceptual artist as well. Since his first series titled "Dioramas" in the 1970s, his works embody the mystifying fakeness that has drawn fans to natural history museum dioramas and wax museums for years. In 1999, the Deutsche Guggenheim commissioned Sugimoto to produce a similar series, "Portraits", focusing on Madame Tussaud's wax museum in London, where he photographed the most realistic wax mannequins of historical figures against a black background.

Japanese photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto thinks of himself not only as a technically skilled photographer, but as a conceptual artist as well. Since his first series titled “Dioramas” in the 1970s, his works embody the mystifying fakeness that has drawn fans to natural history museum dioramas and wax museums for years. In 1999, the Deutsche Guggenheim commissioned Sugimoto to produce a similar series, “Portraits”, focusing on Madame Tussaud’s wax museum in London, where he photographed the most realistic wax mannequins of historical figures against a black background.

In this series, Sugimoto photographs wax figures of Henry VIII and his wives based on portraits from the 16th century. His images attempt to recreate the lighting that would have been used by the painter Hans Holbein the Younger, who held a peculiar eye for the details of their Tudor fashion. Through layers of reproduction, from subject to painting to wax statue to photograph, these images most consciously convey the collapsing of time and the retelling of history that so fascinates Sugmimoto: “I was fascinated with these wax figures, for instance, Henry VIII and his six wives. I studied the painting itself, especially the lighting of the Holbein painting, so I was able to recreate this quality of light. Then I came to this very weird half-real, half-fake staged portrait, so I thought maybe I can try this same technique and give it to the fashion of the mannequin,” he says. Take a look at more images from the series below, currently on view at Casa Garriga i Nogués in Barcelona, Spain through May 8th, 2016.

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