Tomoko Sawada - Photographs London Friday, May 19, 2023 | Phillips
  • ‘‘Looking back to my school days, as a teenager, it was a vital thing how much I could express my own personality in a group photo among the girls who were wearing the same uniforms with similar hairstyles.’’
    —Tomoko Sawada 

    Tomoko Sawada’s (b.1977) School Days box set – the complete set of 10 framed prints contained within a custom-made wooden display box – is appearing at auction for the first time. Originally conceived in 2006 to commemorate the launch of the School Days publication, only four box sets were ever created and the other three are held privately. Meticulously crafted for both display and storage, the box has an opening at the front to allow one work to be on view while the other nine are slotted behind it. 


    Video interview with Tomoko Sawada © SFMOMA, 2018. 



    In School Days, Tomoko Sawada uses images of herself to reference the biannual class photographs that she endured throughout her six years at an all-girls junior high and high school in her hometown in Kobe, Japan. She recalls that the first class photo would be taken in the spring, the start of the new school year in Japan, and the second one would be taken in early summer to correspond with the change in uniform. As seen in the present images, the spring version included sakura [cherry blossom], a symbol of the season in Japan, and the summer version showed green foliage. To create the 10 variations in the series (School Days A – J), Sawada hired different sets of uniforms and other clothing to play 400 students and 10 teachers in total. The painstaking and laborious image-making process involved photographing herself 410 times – each time with subtle physical, sartorial or gestural distinctions – and the background images at her alma mater then digitally stitching them together. 


    Sawada is a recipient of various awards, including ICP’s Infinity Award (2004) and Japan’s prestigious Kimura Ihei Award (2004). Her work has been exhibited internationally and resides in numerous institutions, including New York’s Museum of Modern Art, International Center for Photography and Brooklyn Museum. Tokyo Photographic Art Museum, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Getty Museum, Los Angeles hold School Days prints from the edition of 15 in their collections.

    • Provenance

      Mem, Osaka, 2006

    • Exhibited

      The Yebisu International Festival for Art & Alternative Visions 2017, Tokyo Photographic Art Museum, Tokyo, 10 - 26 February 2017, other prints
      Snacks, Power Station of Art, Shanghai, 16 July - 16 October 2016, other prints
      Tomoka Sawada, Kulturhuset, Stockholm, 5 November 2010 - 30 January 2011, other prints
      Heavy Light: Recent Photography and Video from Japan, ICP, New York, 16 May - 7 September 2008, other prints

    • Literature

      T. Sawada, School Days, Kyoto: Seigensha Art, 2006, n.p.
      C. Phillips & N. Fuku, Heavy Light: Recent Photography and Video from Japan, New York: ICP, 2008, pp. 180-183


School Days

Complete set of 10 chromogenic prints, all framed and contained within a wooden display box, executed 2006.
Each image: 13 x 18 cm (5 1/8 x 7 1/8 in.)
Each frame: 23.6 x 28.5 cm (9 1/4 x 11 1/4 in.)
Box: 26.5 x 31.5 x 19.8 cm (10 3/8 x 12 3/8 x 7 3/4 in.)

Each signed and numbered 14/15 in ink on the verso; the box signed in metallic ink on the back. One from a sold-out set of four box sets.

Full Cataloguing

£10,000 - 15,000 

Sold for £10,160

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Rachel Peart
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Yuka Yamaji
Head of Photographs, Europe

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London Auction 19 May 2023