Cindy Sherman was born in 1957 in New Jersey, the youngest of five children. Because her siblings were so much older than her, she had to find ways to entertain herself alone, which is when she began dressing up as different characters, and watched a lot of films which later became big influences on her work.
In her early childhood her family moved to New York, which Sherman states had a massive impact on her work.
After high school she attended Buffalo State College to study fine arts, but she became frustrated with the work and wanted to create something new and different, and the fine arts industry was more male dominated. This led her to photography which was not considered art at the time, and was more of a female dominated industry. She failed her first year of photography and had to re-take the course in which Barbara Jo Revelle, her teacher, became her first influence into conceptual art and other contemporary forms.
All of Sherman’s works come in series and are untitled as she hates labels. Her work focuses on identity exploration, sexuality and the objectification of women.
“The work is what it is and hopefully it’s seen as feminist work, or feminist-advised work, but I’m not going to go around exposing theoretical bullshit about feminist stuff.” - Cindy Sherman
She would dress herself up as different characters when she was feeling depressed, and her boyfriend at the time encouraged her to create something more out of her characters, as she was studying photography it would be interesting for her to model for her own work.
Her first groundbreaking series came when she was still in college, titled ‘UNTITLED FILM STILLS’ between 1977 and 1980. The series was inspired by Hollywood films from the 50’s and 60’s, where she represented herself in the stereotypical female roles such as the professional, the femme fatale and the fallen woman. A transformation that highlighted the idea that femininity is something that is shaped by male expectations.
This is when Sherman began working with colour photography and different layouts. She was asked to create something for a male magazine (unknown as her pictures were never released in the magazine). In these close-up images the characters are exposed, but not in the form of nudity, on the contrary the women were terrified, exposed and seemingly haunted. Her focus was on the emotional expression to enhance the atmosphere. This is when she found herself at odds with feminists. It was said that these images helped add to the idea that women are helpless objects and victims. She was criticized and told that she needed to have captions, explaining each of her pieces so they wouldn’t be misinterpreted, and this is when Sherman decided to stop discussing her work publicly.
I chose Sherman initially because I wanted to explore the work of a female artist. What appeals most to me is the massive question mark around her and her work as she refuses to speak about it publicly. Her work to me feels timeless and inspiring and I love that she models for all of her own work. In a way, her work is both disgusting and beautiful at the same time which is why it appeals to me so much. She inspires me because she just doesn’t care about what people think or say and began working at a time when photography wasn’t considered art, and now her work is sold for millions. I love her story, the way she carried her ‘dress-up’ games with her into her adult and professional life and turned it into what it is today.
Sherman, C. (1977). Untitled Film Still #3 [Photograph]. WikiArt. https://www.wikiart.org/en/cindy-sherman/untitled-film-still-3-1977
Sherman, C. (1977b). Untitled Film Still #10 [Photograph]. WikiArt. https://www.wikiart.org/en/cindy-sherman/untitled-film-still-10-1977
Sherman, C. (1981). Untitled #92 [Photograph]. WikiArt. https://www.wikiart.org/en/cindy-sherman/untitled-92-centerfold-1981