These days, anyone with an Instagram account is intimately familiar with the idea of stylized self-representation. But long before “selfie” was a word and Kim Kardashian dominated the medium, Cindy Sherman was producing experimental photography using herself as the subject.
She came to prominence in the late 70s with her black-and-white series, Untitled Film Stills. In all 69 photos, a twenty-three-year-old Sherman takes on the persona of a young starlet, appropriating the look of the 8-by-10 glossy images put out by film studios in the 1940s-60s. Uncanny, surreal and completely captivating, the images show Sherman encompassing all the clichés and tropes of femininity from the big screen. They’re photos of her, but at the same time, her identity is nowhere to be found in them.
In the 35 years since then, Sherman has created an extensive body of work that, for the most part, uses her own body as a way to explore the roles women are meant to play in society. Using makeup, prostheses, costumes, and an astonishing ability to control her facial muscles, she has transformed herself into hundreds of completely unique characters. Brutal, in-your-face (pun fully intended) directness dominates her imagery whether she’s channeling an Upper East Side matriarch, 18th-century courtesan, or demented clown with melting face paint. Unlike Kardashian, Sherman doesn’t have a glam squad or assistants. She works alone in her New York City studio, applying makeup and adjusting lighting until she’s satisfied.
Hatje Cantz just released, Cindy Sherman, an extensive collection of photographs from the prolific artist. As discussions of how women are portrayed in the media, the changing face of feminism and how we present ourselves through photography are trending daily, it’s the perfect time to take an in-depth look at this groundbreaking artist. Now available on Artbook, here.