The first time I looked at the picture of World Trade Centre by Hiroshi Sugimoto (link), what immediately came to my mind was how unreal the picture looked like. It was like it was made from a model of the buildings rather than the actual thing, the lack of focus robbing the details one would expect to see and reducing the structures to outlines and swaths of solid grey tones. It so happened that I looked at this picture shortly after looking at the work of Thomas Demand, who builds intricate paper models of places and situations and then takes pictures of them (see for instance here and here) and it occurred to me that it would be possible to still take a similar picture to Sugimoto’s by building a paper model of the World Trade Centre.
I looked at the internet for a neutral, frontal picture of the twin towers, preferably in black and white. The best I could find was this low resolution picture accompanying the relevant entry into the Skyscraper Museum (link)(1). I copied the front side of one of the towers and enlarged this so that details became blurred and pixelated. I then proceeded to copy this four times and made a tridimensional model of each tower. These were then glued on a paper base on the position of the original buildings.
The background and sky were hand painted on A4 using an electronic illustration application and then reduced to a scale that was commensurate with the paper tower models (the reduction was to about A6). The background had to be widened to more or less fit the position of the buildings in Sugimoto´s. This was done by cutting and superimposing two copies of the background, which were then scanned and re-printed. The set up was illuminated with natural shadow light from the front, and an array of LED lamps on the back of the picture, showing through the paper background. A picture of the set-up is shown below.
The picture was taken on a full frame camera with a 50mm lens set at f8 and back focused just behind the plane of background. Sugimoto took the original picture by focusing at twice infinity and in his picture the background looks as unfocused as the foreground. I tried to replicate this as much as possible but in any case, the background was originally drawn without clear building outlines and deliberately blurred to help achieve the effect. My response to the picture was primarily driven by what Barrett calls “Internal Context” – what I viewed in the picture itself, but was also modified by the original context based on how and why Sugimoto took the pictures (discussed here). It also contains elements of original context from Thomas Demand’s work.
The final picture, shown below, had limited post processing manipulation, primarily to correct verticals, crop and adjust the lighting, both generally but also by selectively burning some parts of the picture (particularly the bottom and to vignette the corners). Nothing was cloned out or added in post processing.
Towers (2017) – After Sugimoto (and homage to Demand)
With this picture I wanted to test both my initial reaction to Sugimoto’s but also to understand whether other people had similar feelings. The final picture still looks unreal to me, although the towers in Sugimoto’s version have less detail than my fake models, and are heavily cropped at the top. The background is perhaps more obviously fake, but the sensation that my towers are slightly more realistic than the original left me a bit startled. I casually showed my picture to a friend and to him it was not immediately obvious that my picture was a fake. It seems to me that, just perhaps as Sugimoto’s original intention with these pictures was, we immediately recognise famous shapes by just a few traces, regardless of how blurred or distorted they are and not always question whether what we see is true or not.
(1) Skyscraper.org. (2017). The World Trade Center: Statistics and History. [online] Available at: http://www.skyscraper.org/TALLEST_TOWERS/t_wtc.htm [Accessed 31 Mar. 2017].