S is a new collection from Tokyo Rumano, published in conjunction with an exhibition of the same name at Zen Foto Gallery in early 2018, in which she continues her exploration of self-portraiture. From the press release, S “incorporates theatrical elements, which transforms her self-portraits from a story into a play, performed at her own stage theatre, leading the viewer into another time and space.”
As the book begins, we enter an apartment. A young woman, a college student type, glasses, enters, and the journey begins: a fantasy schoolgirl becomes a geisha. She’s a chameleon, transforming into one character after another, some sultry, others shy, coy, confident. The first third or half of the book takes place almost entirely in a dressing room, packed full of wigs and outfits, and we follow the woman as she tries on various identities. Abruptly, the scene changes, now backstage at hardcore strip clubs, on stage as little bo peep, in a Marilyn Monroe dress—you know the one—and out of one, hanging from the ceiling, swinging from a pole, writhing on the floor. The club closes, and we move on, to the love hotels, high heels clicking across a tile floor, posters advertising various women, then a quick energy drink and a brisk walk through the empty, early morning streets, back home. The fantasy schoolgirl reappears, dances for us. She dreams of working at one of the hotels, and we see the young woman asleep, waking up and making tea, lounging on the sofa.
It’s a fairly simple story, told with complex, difficult pictures, shot in gritty black & white, and printed sideways on black paper. It’s hard to see, hard to look at, virtually impossible to just sit and flip through: it takes work. And maybe that suits the subject. The protagonist is young, and appears to be having fun, but it can’t last: the life she’s living is one that ages people rapidly, time runs away, and all parties must eventually come to an end.
Overall, S gets 3.5 stars. If you like gritty Japanese photography of the Daido Moriyama school, and don’t mind struggling to see the pictures, fighting to twist the neck and eyes to fit the layout of the book, then you’ll probably enjoy. I do, more or less.
Rumando’s website is somewhat out of date, but there’s a gallery of older work, and a brief, incomplete exhibition and publication history, and S is available from Shashasha and other online retailers.