Cindy Sherman was born in 1954 in Glen Ridge, New Jersey. She’s an American photographer known for her “play acting” that was artistic commentary of social issues and feminine stereotypes. And she struck a chord in the art world that resonates to this day. But I’m not going to pontificate on the meaning or impetus behind the imaging itself. It’s been done to death. I will mainly review the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s of her decades long career. Very successful career, I might add.
Almost Instant Stardom
In the early 70’s she attended the State University of New York (SUNY) at Buffalo. While she did major in painting for a while, she did switch to photography. She began work on “Untitled Film Stills” almost immediately after graduating, and it became one of her best-known series. The series itself were simple 8 × 10-inch black-and-white photos that featured Sherman in a variety of roles that emulated the then Hollywood actresses of women as sex objects. Her portrayal of it all fell on the hungry ears of the newly formed feminist movement. She constantly challenged the stereotypes surrounding her in life and media, using herself as the model. Equipped with a Nikon F3 and relatively inexpensive Nikkor 35-105mm f/3.5, she produced some of the late 20th century iconic images of all time.
It was the 1980’s when she began to use color film and exhibit very large prints. As she became more forward in her thinking, the images became more campy. Some say grotesque by reflecting societal issues like eating disorders, mental illness, and even death. Her work became very focused in both subject matter and presentation. I’m unsure if Cindy Sherman had any “photographic” influences, such as contemporary Nan Goldin. But she definitely loved Andy Warhol.
A Willing Participant
Using herself as a canvas, Cindy Sherman became the chameleon of the art world. In her photographic world she was a movie star, battered woman, a teenage boy,… and more. She became more daring with angles, color and size. By the time she was in her mid-thities, the accolades were pouring in. One art critic even referred to her traveling exhibition at the time as, “one of the most arresting artistic achievements of this decade.”
She had been thought to be “the coolest” in New York City art circles while still in her twenties. Her reasoning for using herself as a model was simple; …”I know I can push myself to extremes, make each shot as ugly or goofy or silly as possible.” So no matter how weird a “real model” might find her imagination, she could always get the shot with such a willing participant. (herself) She was sort of the National Lampoon of photography. Whether attacking porn, fashion, advertising,…and a myriad of other subjects,…sometimes you saw it as “tongue in cheek”, and other times as plain old “creepy” or even “gruesome”. But, the images always elicited a guttural and emotional response.
My Favorites: Cindy Sherman & Cindy Sherman
Her books are many. Including my two confusing favorites, “Cindy Sherman” and “Cindy Sherman”. Why are they named the same? No clue. But the original works are now in the millions. So, if you want to view her works, the occasional retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City, or elsewhere, is your best bet.