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Hiroshi Sugimoto

Japanese, born 1948

© Hiroshi Sugimoto, courtesy The Pace Gallery

Emperor Hirohito, 1999

Black-and-white photograph, edition 2/5
58 3/4 x 47 inches (149.2 x 119.4 cm)
Sarah Norton Goodyear Fund, 2001

In works like this, Hiroshi Sugimoto takes a very unusual approach to portraiture. It may at first be assumed that this image of Hirohito, who became emperor of Japan in 1926, was taken from life—unless one knows that he died in 1989, ten years before this work was created. Although some portraits in Sugimoto’s series feature living figures, such as Fidel Castro and Queen Elizabeth II, others feature long-dead personalities like Henry VIII and his fourth wife, Anne of Cleves. Upon a closer look at Emperor Hirohito, one can discern the unusual surface of the figure’s skin and the odd appearance of his hands. The source of the photograph was not Hirohito in the flesh, but a wax likeness of the emperor in Madame Tussauds wax museum in London, against a black background with dramatic lighting. The wax figure was not created from life either, but modeled on a photograph, adding another level of removal from this work’s subject.