Skip to content
CityLab
Culture

The Quiet Glamour of Empty Theaters

A new book collects Hiroshi Sugimoto’s stunning images of drive-ins and movie palaces.
Radio City Music Hall in Manhattan, photographed in 1978. (Hiroshi Sugimoto)
Radio City Music Hall in Manhattan, photographed in 1978. (Hiroshi Sugimoto)Hiroshi Sugimoto

Hiroshi Sugimoto has spent nearly four decades training a large-format camera on movie screens. He leaves the aperture open as the film rolls. The result is a pearly glow that illuminates the surrounding details: pleated velvet curtains, gilded ceilings, rows and rows of seats.

Without an image frozen on the screen, the theaters look unmoored, like they could exist anywhere. But the 130 scenes collected in his new book, Hiroshi Sugimoto: Theaters (Damiani, $60), actually reveal a lot about era and place. The photographer wended his way across the U.S., from New York to Detroit and Ohio and California, and then to Europe, canvassing Art Deco-era movie palaces dripping with gilded details, saddling up to drive-ins, and recording once-grand interiors that slid into dusty disrepair.