Cindy Sherman

Cindy Sherman was born in Glen Ridge, New Jersey in 1954. When she chose to go to art school, her parents were encouraging. She attended Buffalo State College to study photography. Originally setting out to be a painter, Sherman’s major changed when she decided there was no point to painting anymore; she felt as if she was just copying other artists’ painting and it was time consuming. She also realized she could do the same thing with a camera. Sherman graduated in 1976, and moved to Manhattan to begin her still picture series.

The subjects of her early images were self portraits; the themes of the photographs deal with feminine identity. For her first photographs, Sherman took black and white portraits of herself posed as stereotypical women: career girls, sex pots, newlywed brides, and housewives. The subjects were chosen from her childhood images of role models. After three years Sherman switched directions slightly, using movies as her main focus. Her emulation of B rated movie stills helped to launch her career. Some of the women she imitated were Frances Farmer, Sonja Henie, and Anna Magnani; all were actresses during the 1950s and 1960s. When she showed her work at art schools she would project a slide of the film next to her photograph based on it. A critic stated that, “virtually every detail seemed to be accounted for: right down to the buttons on the blouses, the cropping of the image, even the depth of field of the camera” (Krauss 7). The film still images were replicated down to the most minor details. People who view her work sometimes believe they are looking at authentic 1950 movie stills.

The representation of feminine values such as vulnerability and doubt are portrayed in her photographs. Critics believe that the women she represents are “too artificial to be experienced as real people” (Barents 14). However, in a sense Sherman was not portraying real women, she was portraying women in movies. In 1980, Sherman’s movie stills series was complete. She next began a self portrait series using color photographs, frequently depicting herself with a daydreaming look on her face. Sherman has a way of getting inside her characters and allowing the viewer to see the emotion the character is feeling. The photographer herself states, “These photographs reiterate ‘to-be-looked-at-ness’ of femininity” (Klausner 90). The facial expressions exuded a “strong sense of sexuality” (Klausner 90). The photographs’ structure also changed; the images were cropped so there were no full length images of Sherman as there were in the earlier film stills.

During 1981 her style changed to incorporate luried colors, a larger format, and subjects involving gore and rage. Seen as surreal, these images were based on fairy tales, pornography, and fashion spreads from magazines. Since the 1980s, her pictures of women were mostly of women who were victims of some type of horrific event. She describes her photographs from the 1980s as “disgusting works” (Kimmelmann 144). Sherman also began making images based on fashion photographs and advertisements. After this her style changed dramatically between 1985 and 1989. Her subject matter was no longer just herself. She began to take pictures of morbid scenes that she set up. When she did appear in a photograph she had fake body parts or a look of disgust on her face. Another series, called the “sex series,” used fake female body parts. The concept was to get the viewer to believe that the picture included a nude woman, only later realizing the body was fake. Sherman was mocking the way art always uses female nudity as a symbol of beauty. She tried to make the nude female body shocking rather than beautiful, as it normally is portrayed.

Still another series of photographs by Sherman was based on Old Master paintings. She was living in Rome while she took the photographs but stated she had never once gone to the museums or churches for inspiration. The inspirations were derived instead from books with reproductions of the artworks. When speaking of her time in Rome Sherman stated, “It’s an aspect of photography I appreciated, conceptually: the idea that images can be reproduced and seen anytime, anywhere, by anyone” (Kimmelmann 145). The concept that anyone can see and reproduce any image by another person qualifies Cindy Sherman as part of the Post Modernist era. The historical photographs had drapery, gestures, and mirrors surrounding the body; all were used as framing devices within the frame. Her subject matter also changes from Sherman herself playing women’s roles to images that combine both men’s and women’s roles. Cindy Sherman is a well known photographer of the Post Modernist Era. Many people view her as a great photographer, but “She likes to say she isn’t a photographer; she’s an artist whose medium is photography; there is a difference” (Kimmelmann 148). Sherman has also stated, “I can’t stand the idea of art as a precious object” (Kimmelmann 144). She wanted to create “accessible art” in the sense that viewers did not have to read a book in order to understand the concepts and compositions of her work. Since she is not an avid reader, she does not believe her artwork should portray that. In fact, she spends most of her free time watching television; this seems logical, since so many of her photographs were based on movie stills. (Renee Rieker)


Michael Kimmelman, Portraits (New York: Random House, 1998).

Rosalind Krauss, Cindy Sherman 1975-1993 (New York: Rizzoli International Publications, 1993).

Cindy Sherman, Cindy Sherman (New York: Whitney Museum, 1987).

Cindy Sherman, Els Barents, Cindy Sherman (New York: Schirmer/Mosel, 1982).

(illustration pending)

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