‘Some people use the camera just straight on to document exactly what they see but I think it`s more interesting to show what perhaps you may never see’

Perhaps many of you are already acquainted with Cindy Sherman’s work but my only recent discovery of this artist baffles me. Having barely scraped the surface of this artist’s work, each of Sherman’s portraits incites the observer to want to spend an extended period of time immersed in the beauty and original nature of each environment, costume, gaze and intention. Sherman is a famous photographer and film director. She is mostly known for her photographs of female characters portrayed in various social situations. The photographer herself is often the subject of her own work when she is not using mannequins, dolls, skulls, and masks. Sherman has lived in NYC for over 30 years. She started to experience world renowned fame in the early eighties when her series ‘Untitled Film Stills’ (1977-80) caught the attention of the high rolling art buyers. Her “Untitled #96″ (1981) holds the number 2 spot on the list of the most expensive photographs ever sold. The price tag on it was $3,890,500 (Christie’s New York, May 2011). Despite how impressive those numbers are, her work is accessible because she brings to life people that everyone has encountered one way or another and each still has the power to propel one’s imagination into a full length story based on one’s own personal world awareness.

cindy sherman 96

‘Especially when my work first started being sold and being popular I got very nervous about that and I wanted to make work that would be a challenge for somebody to wanna hang above their sofa in their living room.’

 Though she doesn`t see herself as a political feminist Sherman admits it all comes out in her work whether it be subtle or not. In 1988 the National Endowment for the Arts cut funding for artists whom they thought too crude, obscene or indecent. As a result, Sherman challenged the sensors in the early 1990s by creating “The Sex Pictures” (1989-92), a photographic series of mannequin parts shot in an overtly sexual and aggressive way.

‘I am not interested in that kind of shock level, I`m interested in the shock level that comes out of the associations of the artificiality and what it stands for.’

 sex pic   Sherman recounts her early days in NYC in the 1994 self-made documentary “Nobody’s Here But Me” by explaining how intimidating the streets of New York were at the time. She began creating personas when walking alone in order to avoid being noticed and assaulted as a woman. She began to create Untitled Film Stills in 1977 at the age of 23 years old. She worked alone in her apartment as not only photographer but also subject, wardrobe, makeup, set designer, and lighting. The first brilliant stills were created from Sherman who felt trapped in a room but whose imagination moved into high gear. Blondes, brunettes, sirens, housewives, abused, reused, mostly alone. From Marilyn Monroe-esque to Anna Magnani-esque, Hitchcock to Fellini, alive and dead, her characters reflect her media influences. Her pieces always seem to be paying homage to famous visionaries but by representing people in all shapes and forms Cindy Sherman has become a visionary of high caliber in her own right.

‘I`m not exactly afraid to die, once you`re dead what`s there to be afraid of but it`s in the unknown and I think that`s what`s triggered in the films that I like and somehow I try to come to terms with that in the work. I don`t know, that`s just one of my theories’

Sherman’s sensibility toward female popular personas is astounding. There is an unease in her portraits that evokes the fragility and strength of woman and a sort of animalistic awareness of surroundings. Her commentary on identity and gender is very present yet left to the interpretation of the audience’s imagination. Sherman is unrecognizable in her portraits and the more one sees the more she disappears. I found myself challenging my eye to find the similarities in her face but it was to no avail. She understands how subtly the angles of one’s face can work with the camera in order to fabricate a parallel life. Though she is clear on the fact that her portraits are not autobiographical, they do show the versatility of a single human spirit and the many lives and people we have inside of us. Her work is a wonderful annihilator of ‘the other’ and shows us that we have parts of every other within. Some of her works: Untitled Film Stills 1977-80 / History Portraits 1989-90 / The Sex Pictures 1989-92/ Society portraits 2008 Watch this video below to listen to a converstation about Sherman’s Untitled Film Still #21,1978

To read more on Cindy Sherman: Confronting the Centerfolds as Single-Frame Cinema: The Temporal, Filmic Aesthetics of Cindy Sherman’s Photography

Blog post by Cristina Cugliandro