Sawyer’s writings and curatorial projects cover a range of topics, from the origins of the social documentary tradition in the U.S. to contemporary photographic practices, and he is a regular contributor to scholarly volumes, exhibition catalogues, journals, and magazines, including Aperture, Artforum, and Mousse. He is also a contributing editor at Document Journal and OSMOS.
He has worked on exhibitions that explored the work of Bill Brandt, Horacio Coppola, Walker Evans, Robert Heinecken, Zoe Leonard, Grete Stern and more. His exhibitions accompanied by catalogues include Art after Stonewall, 1969-1989 (2019); I Too Sing America: The Harlem Renaissance at 100 (2018); Red Horizon: Contemporary Art and Photography in the USSR and Russia, 1960-2010 (2017); Golden State (2017); The Sun Placed in the Abyss (2016), and 'Social Forces Visualized': Photography and Scientific Charity, 1900-1920 (2011). Other recent exhibitions include Garry Winogrand: Color (2019); Liz Johnson Artur: Dusha (2019); Isaac Julien: Looking for Langston (2018); Family Pictures (2018); Kojo Kamau (2017); Allan Sekula: Aerospace Folktales and Other Stories (2017); Gathered: Snapshots from the Peter J. Cohen Collection and Works by Carmen Winant and Luke Stettner (2016); and Lucy Raven: Low Relief (2016).
Sawyer has taught at Columbia University and Image Text Ithaca MFA Program. He has recently organized and participated in talks with artists Khalik Allah, Basma Alsharif, John Divola, John Edmonds, David Horvitz, Liz Johnson Artur, Mary Lucier, Lisa Oppenheim, Elle Perez, Karol Radziszewski, Lucy Raven, Cameron Rowland, and AL Steiner. In 2017, he co-organized with Sarah Miller a two day symposium, “Reinventing Documentary Photography in the 1970s," which included contributions by Katherine Bussard, David Campany, Heather Diack, Nicholas Frobes-Cross, David Hartt, Solveig Nelson, Jorge Ribalta, Robert Slifkin, and Siona Wilson.
At the Columbus Museum of Art, Sawyer helped conceive of and receive major funding for the Center for Art and Social Engagement.