Chameleon

Tomoko Sawada & Sayaka Murata

Living as a woman in Japan I have undergone a number of metamorphoses since childhood. Whenever I change my hairstyle, clothes or make-up; my way of talking, tone of voice, or the way I move the muscles in my face, the reaction I get from people around me changes too. At school I started running around in a black T-shirt and brown trousers instead of the pink outfit my mother had chosen for me, and my teacher started treating me like a naughty little tomboy rather than a nice obedient little girl. At university I adopted the flashy so-called gyaru (gal) look, bleached my hair brown and wore miniskirts with skin-tight camisoles, looking like one of Sawada’s images. I soon found that the progressive girls started inviting me along to offbeat places, bars and clubs; guys asked me out on dates, and I was often chatted up on the street. When I had to get a job I dyed my hair black again and wore natural make-up. The company brass interviewing me commented fondly on what a ‘serious girl’ I was, and girls dressed exactly like me would strike up conversations. I always tried to metamorphose into my optimal self to fit whatever the context demanded.

As far as I was concerned, clothes and make-up were cosplay tools – simply by changing them I could metamorphose into another character, as if by magic. And then the way other people behaved towards me changed, as though I were a totally different person.

Looking at Sawada’s photos now, I am overwhelmed by the feeling that all my transformations, which I always took for granted as something I just did, were actually more peculiar and intriguing than I imagined. I thought of my metamorphoses as a way of emphasising or externalising certain aspects of myself. I assumed that it had to be something that was already there within me, otherwise I would immediately be exposed as a fraud. But if Sawada can transform herself without limit, maybe I can too. Perhaps there is no end to the metamorphoses.

I sometimes find myself judging someone’s character after just one glance at their clothes and hairstyle, or their make-up and facial expressions. I used to think that my own gaze as I did so was dishonest. But Sawada’s photographs made me realize that this type of human behaviour is rather endearing after all; my imagination runs wild with what Sawada’s fabricated personas might be like, how their daily routines go, and what their speech mannerisms might be. I might like some of her characters, and be taken aback by others. I might turn down that one if she turned up for a job interview, while the one next to her looks like a hard worker . . . The way I instantly judge these proliferating Sawadas is frightening, but I also find it rather peculiar and endearing.


Abscessed Tooth
See What You Do to Me