"I didn't want to make 'high' art, I had no interest in using paint, I wanted to find something that anyone could relate to without knowing about contemporary art. I wasn't thinking in terms of precious prints or archival quality; I didn't want the work to seem like a commodity." Cynthia Morris Sherman.
IntroductionCindy Sherman was born on January 19, 1954, in Glen Ridge, New Jersey. She is an American photographer and film director, whom is best known for her conceptual portraits where she has taken the art to a completely new level. She moved to New York in the 1980’s where she continued experimenting with various styles and levels of photography in keeping with the scene in the city.
Sherman is widely recognized as one of the most important and influential artists in contemporary art. Sherman first became interested in the visual arts at Buffalo State College, where she began painting. After a while, she recognizes she has no interest in painting at all because she had nothing more to say through painting. At the same time, she found herself and fell in love with photography. Sherman works in series, typically photographing herself in a range of costumes.
Motivation:Out of all the contemporary photographers, I chose Cindy Sherman as the topic for this assignment due to the fact that I really appreciate all of her images, her art sense, and her uses of props. Even though Sherman never considers her work as feminist, many of her photo series, use a strong female figure. This is another reason why I picked Sherman as my research target since there are not a lot of photographers which mostly focus on the female figure.
The female nude is perhaps one of the aspects which is the strongest in Sherman’s work. She manages to portray a certain beauty and illustrious presence by focusing on the aspects of female eroticism such as the breasts and the pubic areas. Although this may appear to be slightly shocking at first, the way Sherman manages to take her photographs increases the eroticism of the subject matter and adds to the intense feminism of the role. I found most of her photography extremely original and full of striking colours and ideas which continued to reinforce my admiration for her works of art.
I was particularly enthused by her series of Complete Film Stills where she takes on the role of subject and photographer. Her seemingly innocent yet very erotic pose continued to reinforce my views on her mindset and in the way she portrays herself. Sherman is very much a feminist in her pose as she goes about various chores such as reaching for a book in the library or standing outside on her front porch. The way the black and white photograps are shot instilled a sense of nostalgia in me as I remembered my own past and perhaps what I might have been in another world. Sherman’s style is certainly very powerful and at the same time quite simple in its esoteric intensity. I was very much taken with her experimental photographic nature and this made me choose her as my subject.
Cindy Sherman’s fascinating styles of photography are perhaps emblazoned in her series on Bus Riders. This series is a fascinating photograph full of hidden messages and a rarefied beauty which is the epitome of a work of art. Here one can also appreciate the beauty of graphic design especially in the way the photograph is retouched and changed.
Sherman’s style is perhaps best described through an interview which she gave in the New York Times in 1990.
"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.", "I think of becoming a different person. I look into a mirror next to the camerait’s trance-like. By staring into it I try to become that character through the lensWhen I see what I want, my intuition takes over—both in the 'acting' and in the editing. Seeing that other person that’s up there, that’s what I want. It’s like magic. (The New York Times, February 1990)
Sometimes it seems that Sherman’s style is comparable to the epic ‘Clearing Winter’s Storm’, another modern photograph. Nature is a beautiful thing and this photograph epitomizes the beauty of nature in several ways. First of all the mountain ranges are caught with a certain amount of purity although the clouds obscure them slightly creating a sort of patchwork effect which is all the more intense and captivating. The photographer manages also to assume a certain mystical effect as the storm is actually clearing also demonstrating a masterful and assured use of spatial effects which truly show his capability at creating a scene of utter beauty and at the same time, awe. The same could be said about Cindy Sherman’s varying and versatile palette of styles.
Although one could argue that the black and white nature of the photograph reduces its capability to shock, this medium is still extremely effective. What is most impressive at this stage is the way the sky is caught with all the clouds moving alone quite forcefully and also demonstrating what can be done with a certain camera angle. This is also portrayed in the way the clouds sort of intermesh with the beauty of the landscape which although rugged and wild is particularly impressive especially in the lower sections of the photograph.
Although the picture is one of universal appeal, one may note that it is also direct and effective in other ways, principally the way it speaks to a general audience. The photographer almost catches the moment with blissful uncertainty, in a way this also demonstrates his constant capability to shock. At times one feels that the image is almost unreal and its directness can shock to the core. Angles are again an issue here as one notes that the mountains are direct and forceful in the middle of the picture with the clouds enveloping them in a rather mysterious manner. The same goes for the forward parts of the photograph which are also extremely intriguing.
Clearing Winter Storm is definitely a photograph to be pondered upon in greater detail. It has all the elements of beauty in it yet there are also some parts of it which invoke the mysterious and the intriguing. The cloud effects are perhaps the most satisfying parts of the piece which almost grows on you in its viral intensity and one tends to appreciate it more as it grows on you. However the aspect which is perhaps the most interesting is the fact that the photograph catches a moment after a storm which is unique in its sense of hope for something better.
In my final analysis of Cindy Sherman’s style, I would observe that her photography helps brings about all the aspects together in one fell swoop. It combines mystery and intensity with drama and directness, especially in the skies portrayal but also in the almost picture postcard formation of the picture as a whole. It shows the skills of the photographer in catching the clouds melting with the mountains in a pastel combination that is quite mesmerizing to say the least. Like, Clearing Winter Storm, Cindy Sherman’s style demonstrates a unique feminism and oneness which is not easily replicated. It is surely one of the most memorable photographs of the Yosemite National Park as it catches the wild bleakness of the place but also its rugged and natural beauty in a concoction which is rather magical.
Perhaps the series of works for which Cindy Sherman is best known is Bus Riders which was created between 1976 and 2000. The series of photographs was mainly shot in 1976 but their gestation and editing of the images went on for several years culminating in the publication of the whole series in 2000, particularly the ones titled, ‘Murder Mystery People’. Sherman used several elaborate and finely designed costumes as well as copious amounts of makeup to transform the identity of each image for the shut. The bus riders take on a new, very personalised identity with focus and expressions striking personal. The bus seats are replaced with normal wooden chairs adding to the aesthetic simplicity of the setting.
Another landmark photographic series for which Sherman is also known is the Complete Untitled Film Stills which she worked upon from 1977 to 1980, a shorter yet more intense three year stint. Sherman appeared herself in the photographs variously as a B-movie, foreign film and film noir actress although she has repeatedly stated that she is not an actress ‘per se’ in these shots. She explains that the story comes from her facial expression, something which she describes as ‘acting by accident’.
Untitled Film Still #6. 1977.Collection The Museum of Modern Art, New York.
This photograph reveals Sherman in underwear and although it is not overtly erotic, there is still a luscious sense of womanhood in it all. In a way this photograph does portray feminism in a subtle sense although nothing is very clear. The way Sherman lies on the bed with her hand dangling down is also instructive and poignant.
Other important works include the 1981 series titled ‘Centerfolds’ which deals with the stereotyping of women in films, on television and in the printed media. Sherman described the subtle way in which she wanted the man who viewed the photograph to feel as an aggressor might feel if he was a woman who was always portrayed as a sex object. The pictures contain a strong feminist element and are almost defiant in their intensity.
Untitled Film Still #3. 1977.Collection The Museum of Modern Art, New York.
Yet another erotic pose is prevalent here as Sherman looks sultrily over her back while resting on the kitchen mantelpiece. The assemblage of objects which make up the rest of the kitchen are also a sly reminder that the woman is not just confined to the kitchen. It is a photograph with quite a powerful message in this respect.
Cindy Sherman is certainly a photographic artist to be reckoned with. She manages to bring about different and diverse styles to fruition and even recently collaborated with some very established pop music artists such as Madonna. She has traced the art of photography from its very beginnings and has refined it especially in her landmark series on bus travellers and centrefolds. Although she denies being a feminist, it is clear that most of her works contain that element which she wishes to emphasise albeit subtly and with a certain style. Sherman is definitely one of the finest photographers of the moment and her thirty five year career has placed her among the echelons of top photographers.
Genocchio, Benjamin. "ART REVIEW; Portraits of the Artist as an Actor", The New York Times, April 4, 2004. Accessed May 21, 2012.
Simon Hattenstone (15 January 2011), Sherman: Me, myself and I The Guardian.
Sussler, Betsy http://bombsite.com/issues/12/articles/638 “Cindy Sherman” in BOMB Magazine Spring 1985, Retrieved August 10, 2011
Belasco, Daniel (2005-4-1), "Review of The Unseen Cindy Sherman: Early Transformations",Art in America