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Cindy Sherman

Cindy Sherman, 1981

Cindy Sherman with Untitled Film Still #4 at a benefit exhibition for The Kitchen at the Paula Cooper Gallery, New York, 1981

Photo by Paula Court

Born 1954, Glen Ridge, New Jersey

In 1977, after completing a BFA in photography at Buffalo State University, Cindy Sherman had just moved to New York City when she visited the downtown loft of painter David Salle. She was struck by his collection of softcore girlie photographs that “seemed like they were from ’50s movies, but you could tell that they weren’t from real movies . . . you couldn’t tell whether each photograph was just its own isolated shot, or whether it was in a series.”[1] Often cited by Sherman as a revelatory moment, this encounter prompted her to begin her Untitled Film Stills series.

The Stills images continued Sherman’s student practice of photographing herself in the guise of stock female characters from movies, television, and magazines. But they began to incorporate settings that suggest familiar plots. Previously, she had used neutral backdrops and presented her physical transformations in photographic sequences influenced by feminist artists Eleanor Antin, Martha Wilson, and Suzy Lake. Antin and Wilson were two of the many artists—including Vito Acconci, Chris Burden, Richard Serra, and Hannah Wilke—whom Sherman encountered through the visiting artist program at Hallwalls, a Buffalo gallery founded by her partner, Robert Longo, and local artist Charles Clough. The gallery introduced Sherman to the strategies of minimal, conceptual, and performance art, which she applied to her interrogation of seductive, mass-media imagery.

Like the girlie photos in Salle’s studio, Sherman’s Untitled Film Stills—a series of seventy photographs produced between 1977 and 1980—appear to be moments isolated from a narrative but are in fact staged tableaux. Printed in black and white on 8-by-10-inch glossy photo paper, they resemble the publicity pictures made on movie sets. The settings, costumes, hair, and makeup evoke classical Hollywood and the European new wave but do not refer to particular films. Instead, the photographs distill feminine stereotypes pervasive in film culture, exaggerating them to the point that the façade begins to crack.

 

Antonia Pocock

 

[1] Cindy Sherman, quoted in Gerald Marzorati, “Imitation of Life,” Art News 82, no. 7 (September 1983): 85.

 

Burton, Johanna, ed. October Files: Cindy Sherman. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2006.

Respini, Eva. Cindy Sherman. New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2012.