Tomoko Sawada, Mirrors @Zabriskie

JTF (just the facts): A total of 30 small scale color works, framed in brown wood and matted, and hung in the main gallery space and back viewing room. All of the photographs are digital c-prints, made in 2009, sized roughly 4×7, and printed in editions of 8. (Installation shots at right.)

Comments/Context: Japanese photographer Tomoko Sawada has already made a sizeable photographic career out of the simple idea of changing her outward appearance. From arrays of photobooth self-portraits to school girl class pictures and arranged marriage shots, she has used nuances in clothing, makeup, hairstyle, and facial gesture to generate literally hundreds of variations on herself, quietly commenting on cultural traditions, societal roles and norms, and the creation of personal identity along the way.
Her newest body of work continues in this same vein, this time using paired portraits of herself which are identical except for small changes in superficial details (hence the title of the show, Mirrors). In what might be pictures of twins, sisters, or futuristic (and creepy) clones, all is exactly the same except for the manipulation of one mundane, everyday variable: the color of a blouse, the style of the hair, or the tilt of a head. What is altogether surprising is how much these small external characteristics seem to imply about age, class, and personality, as well as the subtleties of mood and emotion.

I think it’s overly easy to connect Sawada’s work to that of Cindy Sherman or Nikki Lee, and there certainly are obvious parallels in terms of mimicking of appearances and the chameleon-like approach to outward transformation. What I think is slightly different here (especially in her new work) is that Sawada doesn’t recede into “character” or the staged environment quite so much; while there is an element of play-acting, the spoofing and satire is a little less overt in these pictures, the approach a bit cooler and more deadpan conceptual. Perhaps another way to put this is that while Sherman and Lee often “become” their characters, I never seem to lose sight of Sawada the artist, even when she has modified her appearance significantly.
Collector’s POV: Each of the works in this show is priced at $1300. While Sawada is on her way to becoming increasingly well known here in the US, her work has not yet reached the secondary markets for photography in any significant volume, so no detailed auction price history is readily available. As such, gallery retail is likely the only option for interested collectors at this point.
Rating: * (one star) GOOD (rating system described here)
Transit Hub:
  • Artist site (here)
  • Interviews: Artkrush (here), Pingmag (here)
  • Heavy Light, 2008 @ICP (here)
  • Review: NY Times, 2003 (here)
  • Book review: School Days, Japan Exposures (here)
Through July 9th

Zabriskie Gallery
41 East 57th Street
New York, NY 10022

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