Artist or Photographer: Does it Matter Anyway?

Photograph/Tomoko Sawada

Photograph/Tomoko Sawada

This article was originally published in February 2013.

"Personally, I have no particular preference for the term ‘artist’ or ‘photographer’."

“Personally, I have no particular preference for the term ‘artist’ or ‘photographer’.”

Over the past 16 years, I have been working on self portraiture, but not shooting the portraits myself. This was exactly what I did when I created ID400, my first body of work that was created using a machine! I used a small contraption that was like a vending machine… it was something that made instant ID photos. So I started to disguise myself and pose in front of the machine for each photo, until the entire book was ready. I have changed the process and added different perspectives to it in my other work, but the essence remains the fact that all my work compromises of self portraits that are not ‘clicked’ by me.

In fact, this practice became a focus of discussion during my selection for a celebrated Japanese photography award. It was debated among the committee members whether I could still be defined as a photographer, having assigned the task of pressing the shutter button to another. Personally, I have no particular preference for the term ‘artist’ or ‘photographer’. I am an artist who uses photography as a means of work. If one considers photographers to be takers of photographs, I would have no objection against that name. On the other hand, if one believes the designation should only be reserved for the person who shoots images by himself, I would also be content to be known simply as an artist. Films are produced as a collaborative effort, yet the finished work is usually recognised through the director.

I have never looked to an existing individual for reference, nor have I attempted mimicry. I seek instead to transform my appearance into something other than myself with hairstyles, makeup, or the use of facial expressions and gestures.

Nevertheless, I have not once considered playing any kind of role as an actress might, empathetically developing a character within herself. I may venture into that territory if the necessity for acting arises in a future project, but in my mind, there is little connection between what I do and theatre.

In fact, the foundation of my work as an artist is the the relationship between the external and internal. Since my reflections upon this theme eventually take form as photographs, this practice of disguising myself and making self portraits is just a technical means to an end.

I haven’t finished with self portraits yet. I will be introducing new methods, especially because my investigation of externality and internality isn’t over. I have come to terms with the prospect that there may not be any clear answers lying ahead. But the theme continues to interest me profoundly, and I believe that my work will remain tied to its complexities.

It is my opinion that questions of identity, gender, and the significations of being Japanese are inherently addressed within my practice of self portraiture, and I do not feel pressed to further explore these topics separately with special focus.

My work has consisted until now of my observations on the rapport between the appearance and the personality, and in the coming years, I hope not only to broaden the relevance of this topic but also to diversify my approach to it.

My most important focus is how I can realise my original ideas into works of art. There was a time I would be afraid of gazing into the source of my creative thoughts, and of witnessing it languish. But I have come to realise that the fountain of my creativity can only be drained and depleted if my fears prevent me from embracing the rush of ideas flowing out. Stagnation, which threatens your motivation to create, is in fact encouraged in a vicious cycle, by doubt and hesitation. Therefore, the important facet of artistic creativity is not only technical skill, but also about the careful cultivation of ideas through which one can express themselves in a way that is fearless, innovative and personal.

Tags: better photography, photography, photographer, Visual Musings, february 2013, Tomoko Sawada, ID400, japan photography