Here is a clip on Cindy Sherman from PBS Art 21 program. Many more clips of this program are available on YouTube.
One of the most well known female artists to make a significant impact on contemporary photography and feminist art in the 1980's was Cindy Sherman. Cindy was born in 1954 and grew up on Long Island. Her career began in the late 1970's after attending New York State College in Buffalo. Ironically enough, she failed photography in her first year, but following the encouragement of friend and fellow artist Robert Longo, she was inspired to begin her career as an artist. After graduation, she moved to Manhattan in 1977 and began work on the series "Untitled Film Stills" which she completed in 1980.
Sherman's "Untitled Film Stills" is a collection of sixty-nine black and white photographs that are uncannily reminiscent of 1950's and 1960's Hollywood B movie stills. The subject matter of these photos consists of women in domestic or distressing scenarios, such as in the kitchen, in front of the bathroom mirror, or stranded at the side of the highway, suitcase in hand. Most often Sherman is the only person visible in the frame and the viewer is made to feel like a voyeur of her condition. Her facial expressions, wide-eyed and somewhat fearful, convey confusion and helplessness.
Although Sherman always photographs herself, it would be inaccurate to consider her work only as self-portraits. In essence, she is a screen upon which to project an image or idea or character she is impersonating. Using elaborate costumes and makeup she transforms herself into the fictional characters, she portrays and challenges the myths presented by popular culture by addressing themes that are not about her life specifically, but rather the roles of women in contemporary society and how they are portrayed in media such as art and film.
While the "Untitled Film Stills" are Sherman's best-known works, and have become part of the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art, she also has created a series of large scale richly colored photographs suggestive of historical portrait paintings. Spanning the last four centuries, the unsettling characters, played again by Sherman, in "History Portraits" are strongly reminiscent of historical and religious icons such as Christopher Columbus, Isaac Newton and the Madonna and Child. Viewers often feel as if the photographs are humorous reproductions of actual works when in fact they are completely fictitious creations.
The elaborate period costumes, which adorn the transfixed Sherman, are validated by the authentic hairstyles, detailed props, and impeccable make up and are responsible for her eerie transformation. Props such as misshapen noses, false breasts, appendages and body parts degrade the characters depicted, and remove the images from their pristine and sacred locations in history. Sherman explores the past and how its meaning applies to and effects our lives currently through these grotesque, yet often amusing images which address the residual knowledge of history in our individual memories. The information presented in "History Portraits" addresses the past and present values placed on the female anatomy and question it in relation to how it is idealized in contemporary society.
The illusions created by Cindy Sherman's photographs are derivative of the illusions that have been created throughout history. They indicate a falseness that exists in our perception of history as well as women. Much like history, at first glance her photographs appear truthful, however, upon further study we realize they too are open to interpretation. Sherman's portraits reveal the importance of a further investigation into what we believe is fact and what in reality is fiction. Her ability to evoke memories of a past we are taught and relate it to our contemporary lives is one of the most valuable aspects of her work as it reflects the perception we have of our history and ourselves.
Page author: A.E.