Natsumi Takahashi, Born

JTF (just the facts): Published in 2022 by Dashwood Books (here). Softcover (5.25 x 8 inches), 20 pages, with 30 black and white photographs. There are no texts or essays included. (Cover and spread shots below.)

Comments/Context: Dashwood Books, the well-known photobook store in New York, has been publishing its own series of zines since 2017, and over the years, it has released several dozen thin volumes, showcasing both established and emerging artists. The idea is simple and works well: all the zines have the same straightforward format; the content is generally open; and the artists are encouraged to submit work they have already produced, but haven’t yet had a chance to publish. In earlier releases, John Yuyi offered confidently performative self portraits made in airplane bathrooms (reviewed here), while Bela Borsodi put together subtly seductive female nudes with a fetish for plants (reviewed here).

One of the recent zines is a series of images by the young Japanese photographer Natsumi Takahashi. Titled Born, it is a small publication with black and white photographs of various sizes, many of them printed full bleed. The photograph on the cover shows a young woman photographed from the back on what looks like a rooftop; she wears over knee lace socks, and holds her white dress up exposing her butt. She looks straight into the camera, confident and playful, signaling that she is in control. There is no text or any other design elements on the cover or inside, and the title and the artist’s name appear on the back cover in a small cluster of text at the bottom left corner. 

All the photographs in Born are centered on one person, a young woman seen in an apartment and on the streets, playfully posing in various outfits. While there are no captions or texts in the zine, a short description offered by the artist on the publisher’s website reveals a little bit more about the project. The name of the model is Sarah and all of the photos were taken during just one day back in 2019, on a single roll of black-and-white 35mm film. Takahashi also notes that “Sarah has an iconic look and style, and has lots of fun clothes to shoot, so it’s all styled by herself.” Sarah, her outfits, her inspired styling, and the surroundings form an exciting and intimate visual narrative.

As the zine opens, we see Sarah on the rooftop, this time a close up portrait of her is paired with two smaller shots as she leans against the parapet. Here she frowns, but as we turn the page her gaze turns warmer. Throughout the book she changes outfits and facial expressions, and there is no doubt that photogenic Sarah can pull off almost any look. 

The narrative moves from the rooftop to inside Sarah’s apartment and then eventually to the street. One spread pairs a photo of Sarah in a swimsuit in the bathroom with two vertical shots placed horizontally showing her with framed pictures of John Kennedy and the Mona Lisa behind her. The following central spread is a grid of eight smaller images as Sarah poses in a swimsuit in the bathroom, again playing with a range of expressions, and then a small shot of Sarah looking straight into a mirror is paired with a full bleed one on the right, now outside and turning slightly towards the viewer and winking. 

Another sequence of images depicts Sarah outside on the sidewalk, and the very last image, placed on the back cover, shows Sarah making a crossed fingers sign while she looks straight into the camera. When the pandemic started, Takahashi moved back to Japan, and this series, one of her personal favorites, was a reminder of her days in New York City. With these portraits, now in paper form, Takahashi has created an engaging story of her friend.

Many photographers have found inspiration working with their muses and models, and while this series was shot just over one day, it fits well under this category. Born brings to mind the improvised feeling of the small book Alice in Londonland by Valerie Phillips, in which the artist photographs a young woman named Alice as they walk around London documenting their adventures (reviewed here). Just like other zines published in the Dashwood Books series, Born is a small, self-contained project, well matched to the zine format. The publication is at once mundane, playful, and provocative, full of energy and fun.

Collector’s POV: Natsumi Takahashi does not appear to have consistent gallery representation at this time. As a result, interested collectors should likely follow up directly with the artist via her Instagram page (linked in the sidebar)

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