Photo: Cindy Sherman, Untitled #92, 1981 Chromogenic color print 24 x 48 inches.
“I feel I’m anonymous in my work. When I look at the pictures, I never see myself; they aren’t self-portraits. Sometimes I disappear,” American photographer Cindy Sherman (b. 1954) told The New York Times in 1990, offering profound insight into the artifice of the image itself.
Sherman has made it her life’s work to create a body of photographs in which she becomes a diverse array of societal archetypes almost exclusively available to white women in modern life. Working alone in her studio, Sherman becomes the mastermind of her enterprise, acting as author, director, make-up artist, hair stylist, wardrobe mistress, model, and photographer—all with one goal in mind: the creation of an image that transcends our assumptions about the feminine.
The result is a body of work that has kept Sherman in the spotlight for four decades, each new body of work going further into the deconstruction of the relationship between the creation of a portrait and the forging of an identity. As she observed, “We’re all products of what we want to project to the world. Even people who don’t spend any time, or think they don’t, on preparing themselves for the world out there—I think that ultimately they have for their whole lives groomed themselves to be a certain way, to present a face to the world.”
By allowing her face to become the site of discovery, Sherman has transformed photography itself, forever redefining the nature of the portrait into the act of psychological exploration. She reveals, ““I’ll see a photograph of a character and try to copy them on to my face. I think I’m really observant, and thinking how a person is put together, seeing them on the street and noticing subtle things about them that make them who they are.”
Cindy Sherman: Imitation of Life, a comprehensive survey of 120 works, is on view at The Broad, Los Angeles, now through October 2, 2016. The first major show of the artist’s work in LA since 1997, the exhibition is drawn primarily from the museum’s collection, which has the world’s largest holding of Sherman’s work. Organized by guest curator Philipp Kaiser, Imitation of Life showcases Sherman’s engagement with twentieth-century film and celebrity, drawing on cinema’s role in the shaping of identity and stereotypes.
Imitation of Life includes some of Sherman’s most famous work, including Untitled Film Stills, in which the artist poses as her own model in a variety of nostalgic yet rigorously conceived scenes reminiscent of B-movies of the 1950s and 60s. The exhibition highlights other major photographic series by the artist, including the centerfolds (1981), the fairy tales (1985), the history portraits (1989–90), the sex pictures (1992) and her clown pictures (2003–04). Also included is Office Killer, the 1997 comedy- horror feature film directed by the artist.
Sherman’s work is best described as a series of questions that may very well be more important than the answers themselves. In the creation of her work, Sherman allows us to enjoy beauty and pathos at face value or take it one step further, should we be so inclined. In a Sherman photograph, there is always more, always another layer of meaning to be explored. As she revealed, “The still must tease with the promise of a story the viewer of it itches to be told.”
All photos: © Cindy Sherman Courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures.
Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer, curator, and brand strategist. There is nothing she adores so much as photography and books. A small part of her wishes she had a proper library, like in the game of Clue. Then she could blaze and write soliloquies to her in and out of print loves.