Life without backgrounds or frames: “Time’s Arrow,” by Hiroshi Sugimoto

I first saw “Time’s Arrow,” the 1987 photo collage by Hiroshi Sugimoto,1 as an illustration in the Spring 2018 issue of Buddhadharma: The Practitioner’s Quarterly.

The image grabbed me, and I saved it as an image for contemplation.  It has taken me a while to grasp what the image suggests for me.

After a series of difficult personal losses and challenges over the past two months, I set the image as the lock screen for my laptop.  It is the first image I see when I boot up.

"Time’s Arrow" (1987), by Hiroshi Sugimoto (seascape: 1980; reliquary fragment: Kamakura Period, 13th century) Gelatin silver print, gilt bronze.

Normal perspective

At first, the normal human eye sees the black background and the antique bronze relic frame.

Then it starts to see the tiny circle of sky and sea, as if through a porthole.

I pondered this sequence for several weeks before I realized that I needed to recognize the background and frame as just what they are: something artificial imposed around the real sky and sea in the circle.

Opened perspective

Once I experienced that shift of perspective, I began to imagine the entire sky and sea, stretching from horizon to horizon.

I began to realize that what I perceive of my true life is usually confined and constrained by the backgrounds and frames that I have learned to impose upon it over seven decades.

What if I could look at my true life without those artificial definitions and barriers, some imposed by others, some created by my own hurting soul in a reflex against what I can’t bear or understand.

Contemplative practice

Several weeks later, this contemplation has developed into a practice of waiting worship.

When I feel stuck or hurt or angry, I can glance at a window or other opening from the space I am in, or at the sky above the buildings and trees, and recognize the sky as suggesting divine space, with everything else as merely the framework of that particular moment.

This doesn’t deny the real experience of the moment, but it reminds me that moments change constantly.

All of us

All of us reenact upon ourselves both the deliberate abuses and the careless injuries inflicted on us by the human world.

We are so burdened down by these artificial backgrounds and frames for our lives that usually we perceive them as the limits of our reality.

But whenever we choose to glimpse, even for a moment, the larger divine reality—the boundless sky and sea—which is our true self, that puts things in perspective.

This practice doesn’t necessarily “fix” anything, but it gives us more space within our hearts, space to hold our whole, true selves, and space to hold the true selves of everyone else as well.


And so it is.
Blessèd Be.


Image Source & Note

Time’s Arrow” (1987), by Hiroshi Sugimoto (seascape: 1980; reliquary fragment: Kamakura Period, 13th century) Gelatin silver print, gilt bronze.

  1. Hiroshi Sugimoto. Bio excerpt from Marian Goodman Gallery:

    “Hiroshi Sugimoto was born in Tokyo, Japan in 1948. He graduated from Saint Paul’s University, Tokyo in 1970 and in 1974 from the Art Center College of Design, Los Angeles. In 1974 he moved to New York where he currently resides.

    “Sugimoto’s masterful photographs exemplify both the craftsman’s will to visual beauty and perfection, and an incisive exploration of philosophical notions of space and time, imagination and reality, science and history.

    “Drawing on the classical photographic tradition, Sugimoto creates distilled, meditative images which unite the concrete and abstract, and contain meaningful conceptual underpinnings which seek to materialize the ‘invisible realm of the mind’ and the unconscious.

    “In his process, Sugimoto seeks to comprehend the nature of perception, exploring duration and temporality through photography, and an understanding of how radical shifts through the past enlighten the present….

    “In 2017, Hiroshi Sugimoto founded the Odawara Art Foundation, Japan, dedicated to fostering and promoting both traditional Japanese and International contemporary performing arts practice.”

4 comments On Life without backgrounds or frames: “Time’s Arrow,” by Hiroshi Sugimoto

Comments are closed.

Site Footer

Verified by MonsterInsights