Photographs strike lightning

One element that makes a work of art particularly intriguing is when the artist takes the form in which he works in a new direction, beyond the expected.

In “Lightning Fields,” a collection of photographs on view at Fraenkel Gallery in The City, Hiroshi Sugimoto has done just that.
Sugimoto’s starting point, the use of electricity, tells us immediately that we are in for something different.

His object is to photograph electric current. Electricity is something that historically has plagued photographers. Uncontrollable static electricity has been known to scar negatives and consequently destroy images.

Rather than seeing the static electricity as an obstacle, Sugimoto, a Tokyo-born, New York-based artist whose work is in museums worldwide, has found a way to photograph the errant current itself, creating startlingly beautiful and fascinating
imagery.

The process is as unique and interesting as the results.

Instead of using a camera and conventional shooting techniques, Sugimoto, in a dark room, draws on unexposed film with a rod attached to a 400,000-volt generator. With the wand, as it is called, he strokes the negative, applying an electric charge. The result is an instantaneous image.

The variety of Sugimoto’s results is particularly impressive, considering the limited control he has as he creates the images.

Varied forms of white light resembling electric currents — some thin and fragile, others thick and explosive — set against the stark, black background of the unexposed negative comprise the show.

In some photos, the fragile, jagged lines explode into fiery looking shapes of intense white light.

In others, areas of deep, shaded gray are introduced.

Overall, the abstraction of the forms and their intensity set against the black backgrounds suggest an archetypal sensibility.

In one photograph, two small but sharply white, jagged forms resembling trees are set against a background with a stark blackness made ethereal by areas of shaded gray. The feeling is that of two lonely figures in vast, dark space.

In another, thick, deep gray lines end suddenly in frail, jagged forms, also resembling trees, of intense white light. Again, set in the stark black background, the photo suggests a world found only in dreams.

IF YOU GO

Lightning Fields

Where: Fraenkel Gallery, 49 Geary St., San Francisco
When: 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. today-Friday; 11 a.m. to p.m. Saturday
Admission: Free
Contact: (415) 981-2661; www.fraenkelgallery.com

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