Cindy Sherman was born in 1954 in New Jersey. As the youngest of 5 children, she grew up with a desire to please people. She loved playing dress up, and collecting clothes from thrift stores. It must have been these early years where she developed a love for altering the way she was viewed by other people.
In college, Sherman failed her first photography class. But painting, at that time, was “men’s medium” and she wanted to claim her own space. She began documenting her getting ready process before going out at night which led her to her first series of photographs.
“Untitled Film Stills,” which brought Sherman into the limelight, was a series of 69 black and white images. She poses as 69 different character for the photos, each unnamed, but each with an intriguing story behind them.
From this project, Sherman’s career took off. She kept creating, posing for her own photos. In her work, she took on a multitude of roles as she would do makeup, prosthetics, costuming, wigs, prop staging, photography, and modelling – every possible role, for every photo.
Since Sherman’s work involves her putting on different costumes and make up, much of it is concerned with identity. Her photos aren’t really of her, they’re of other people that she’s portraying. Sherman’s work confronts the way that TV, movies, the internet, and other new media forms have caused us to view other people. She often deals with different extremes – beautiful and ugly, real and artificial, fiction and reality. Gender identity also plays into much of her work, and much of it challenges the way so much art has been created from a male perspective.
Sherman’s photography is striking and enticing. I find myself both disturbed by it and unable to look away. What’s most remarkable, to me, is her ability to completely embody the characteristics of the people in her photos. She must have some amazing acting abilities to portray so many different people so well. By using photography instead of painting, she is able to force people to think in a new way about the images they’re seeing. Sherman makes us confront the reality of much of our art, and think twice about how we view people. Her photos feel more “real” than paintings, and the characters she take on seem to have endless stories to tell.
“I am trying to make other people recognize something of themselves rather than me.” — Cindy Sherman