Broad Collection, courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures Your ultimate guide to Cindy Sherman For six decades, the photographer has explored identity, sexuality, and femininity through her camera lens — here is your ultimate rundown on the iconoclast 3August Text Anna Freeman Cindy Sherman has spent most of her 62 years using her camera as a way to explore concepts of identity, sexuality, and largely, femininity.
Starting out as a painter in , she moved towards photography and began using make-up and costume to create images of herself as various societal archetypes. Usually shooting solo in her New York studio, Sherman assumed the role as author, director, designer and model, often with no knowledge of what she was trying to say but arriving at perceptive social critiques nonetheless.
A contemporary master of the cultural zeitgeist, Sherman is now known as one of the most influential and pioneering photographers of her generation. Pulling inspiration from pop culture imagery, film, fashion and television, the artist challenged the restrictive roles of women in the media and the perpetual objectification of female sexuality. After moving to New York art college, she became aware of how performances outside the home and on the street differed immensely from the comfort of her own apartment.
During the 70s and 80s, the photographer withdrew to the safety of her own studio, shooting alone to battle with what she referred to as a social depression. While her images have captured the attention of art critics, scholars and fans alike, an ambiguity that feeds into all of her photographs is perhaps their only homogenous characteristic.
Speaking in , Sherman explained: The series — which came to fruition in — was a collection of black and white photographs of herself as a variety of closely observed subjects.
Growing up in the suburbs of Long Island, she always loved to play dress-up, and when she was just out of Buffalo State College she abandoned painting and decided to focus on the camera. Surrounded by media images purporting restrictive archetypes of female subjectivity, Sherman began to use the lens as a medium for social critique — often unwittingly.
In what grew to be a series of 69 photographs in her genre-defining Untitled Film Stills, the artist assumed the role of housewife, career girl, siren, to name a few, and almost without knowing gave voice to the struggle of second wave feminism.
While the movement focused on suffrage and overturning legislature in the 60s, the 70s and 80s saw a move towards the home and the workplace, battling against the labels foisted upon women during this time. Fear of the unknown and the dark abyss lingers throughout her work and it leaves an uncomfortable taste in your mouth. As she often challenged the capitalistic drive of the art world, much of her work was initially showcased in non-profit organisations.
Among many other notable shows in her unrivalled career, the Museum of Modern Art presented a show in called Cindy Sherman, which chronicled her work from the s and included more than photographs. Her entire lexicon of feminine identities and aversion to objectification clearly champion her as a feminist role model, but she has always maintained that the product precedes the intention. In each picture, rather than deconstructing the relationship between image and identity, Sherman leads the viewer to construct it in their own terms.
Judith Williamson, the author of Images of Women, argues: But it does come out in my work. Grotesque images of dismembered bodies, pubic hair and traumatised genitalia were just some of the themes that the artist touched on. Exemplified by her image "Untitled ", which features her lying on the ground with a pig snout covered in blood, Sherman articulates the uncanny and carnivalesque qualities that are conveyed through fairy tales.
Growing up in the 50s when television and film were becoming more widely available, she felt there was a limitation to the way women were being represented. The Hollywood starlet — platinum, bored, angry — came to be a central figure in her Untitled Film Stills "Untitled " in particular. Incorporating Italian neorealism from the 40s, 50s, and 60s, as well as taking inspiration from cult classics such as Halloween and Night Of The Living Dead, she used the contrast of black and white — light and dark — to create fear in the viewer.
She has always said that the shots taken are not of her, but are a replication of varying subjectivities and archetypes, posing important questions about identity, representation and the role of imagery in contemporary culture.
And, this seems to be more relevant now than ever with the creation of social media and how we carefully manufacture a mediated version of ourselves online. Sherman should be championed as the ultimate Selfie queen. The National Endowment for The Arts pulled its funding for controversial art projects in the country, making it harder for creatives to express themselves outside the rigid barriers that were set.
As a way of mocking the conservatism of America at the time, and the art world more specifically, she refused to inhibit her work by instruction of governing institutions.
Through her use of broken and disfigured mannequins and dolls, and explicitly haunting imagery, Sherman put two fingers up to the system. Using the centrefold of the magazine to convey a victim-like Sherman in a range of styles, costumes and poses, the collection is widely thought of as one of her most feminist narratives.
She said of the series: Take "Untitled Film Still 6", taken in , the artist exposes herself in her underwear, holding a mirror in one hand as she dons her usual emotionless expression. While the image is clearly sexualised, Sherman also demonstrates how femininity is a disguise, a performance, and then so too becomes the commander of the gaze. After studying the visual arts at Buffalo State College, she moved back east in the 70s to pursue her interests in photography.
Admittedly, Sherman found New York isolating, dangerous, yet inspirational, and became almost reclusive in her notorious studio. She married French photographer and filmmaker Michel Auder in , but they divorced 15 years later.
Sherman now lives in Soho where she continues to make conceptual art. Although badly received by critics for its poorly-executed plotline and seemingly out-dated cinematography, it can be widely read as classic Sherman.
Incorporating her favourite genres and themes — horror, death and the female — she created a humorous ode to slasher films of the 80s, with no apologies for its unconvincing gore and schlocky aesthetic.
Living through the AIDS crisis in the previous decade, particularly in New York City, she felt it was important to scrutinise the body as a way of understanding society. Filling her studio with life-sized dolls and prosthetics, Sherman dissected, and mutilated, humanity itself by posing questions about sex, gender and disease through plastic.
One image that usually stands out in the minds of Sherman enthusiasts is Untitled , which saw a fusion of male and female genitalia in a deeply de-eroticised form.
The hermaphroditic portrayal of sexuality as fluid or seamless is typical Sherman, as well as the recognition that it is not reality. Untitled , which features a mannequin from behind with a gaping hole where her anus should be, should be examined under the conservative lens of the US at the time. In an almost deliberate act of regression, she started to venture into unmarketable territory in what many have theorised as a protest against the traditionalist values of the 80s.
With Regan and Thatcher at the helm of foreign politics, there was a sense that society yearned for the past and a stunted nostalgia reared its head.
Pictures of vomit, condoms, dildos, pubic hair and women with their heads and genitalia chopped off challenged the nature of capitalism in the art world. However, she was named the recipient of the MacArthur Fellowship in regardless.
In the collection, she would pose in front of projections of various cityscapes and backgrounds, creating a surreal and abstract aesthetic. In Untitled 66, the artist poses in the middle of a highway holding her bike, giving the impression that she could be killed at any moment. Although this series is lesser known, it provides insight into the introspection of Sherman and work.
Using a mix of prosthetics, dolls and mannequins, she dissected the body and problematised the relationship between physicality and sexuality. A dream for students of cultural and gender studies, the artist drew inspiration from whatever was available to her as she grappled with becoming a woman through the revolution of the 50s and 60s.
The simple concept of dressing up and taking pictures that resemble something she has seen on the small screen are far more puzzling in practice. Leaving the images untitled, the artist was able to preserve the ambiguity of the scenes that she created.
Sherman hoped to tell a moving narrative through the use of stills, re-creating iconic films and imagery as a way of re-imagining mainstream forms of storytelling.
Many in the series were fiercely critical of the way women were portrayed in the media, while others were simply shot to evoke an ambivalent reaction from the spectator. Presented to us in an arguably peep show fashion, we are no longer invisible voyeurs but are active participants in critical viewing. Critic Therese Lichtenstein writes: Centrefolds a year later made a jump to 24 by 48 inches, and the pattern continued.
Growing up as the youngest of five in the suburbs, with one brother tragically committing suicide at the age of 27, she admitted to finding comfort in relationships when she moved away from home.
Sherman was married to Michel Auder for 17 years, who was addicted to heroin for much of the time. As with feminism, Sherman almost accidentally stumbled into a more nuanced dialogue about female representation than many vehement second-wavers managed to.