Japanese photographer who raises provocative questions in her own self-portraits that are an exploration of the nature of identity. Some of her work has been taken in photobooths, whilst in her series "School Days" she assumes all the roles in the class photographs.
In 2004 she was awarded the Kimura Ihei Memorial Photography Award for Young Japanese Photographer and the International Center of Photography Infinity Award in the category of Young Photographer.
Contemporary portraiture can communicate various attitudes towards identity, status, individualism, time, place, culture and other connected ideas of the self. For artists, it can be used as a platform for discussion or as an enlightening tool for personal discovery. The work of Tomoko Sawada explores many of these sometimes contradictory ideas through self-created characters, the use of costume and staged photography allows Sawada to evoke the essence of ‘real’ people within a controlled environment.
Sawada’s series OMIAI, ID400 and School Days are fitting examples of her ability as both a photographer, and to some degree, performance artist. Reincarnating herself as numerous different schoolgirls or multiples of potential wives, Sawada explores Japanese stereotypes with humorous and delightful effect. By turning the lens on herself, Sawada explores the finer details of portraiture utilizing costume, facial expression and differing environments for the perfect photograph – the accessible photo-booth, studio, or working environment. Her work has a sense of familiarity, comforting but also unsettling in its realism and closeness.
Sawada enlists the assistance of studio photographers to document her work. This separation from the ‘artist’s hand’ further places Sawada in the realm of performer rather than photographer. Her art is connected to her surroundings, her costume, hair and make-up; all of the rudimentary and mundane objects that are usually taken for granted. Once formulated, her photographs act as an exploration of social badges, the malleability of the self and our position and role in contemporary society. The experimentation and repetitive nature of her photography further highlights Sawada’s skill in costume and theatrical prowess. The digital manipulation of her work feels real and her characters, believable. All of these elements culminate in a photographic document of Japanese society and the individuals that encapsulate it.
This highly skilled photographer’s body of work continues to grow. She has exhibited in major national and international galleries and group exhibitions where many public and private collectors have purchased her work. She is also the winner of many notable photography awards and grants.
(Courtesy of MEM, Tokyo, used with permission, 13 April 2012)
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