Cindy Sherman is a feminist postmodern photographer and part of the Pictures Generation. Sherman uses mass communication and advertising to explore feminine identity, gender roles, and power hierarchies. Acting as her own model, she adopts the costumes and makeup of female stereotypes from art history and from modern media to examine cultural representations of women.
Sherman was the youngest of five children and often assumed new identities as a way to gain attention. She graduated from State University College, Buffalo in 1976. When she relocated to New York City, where she currently lives and works, she again assumed new identities as a way of overcoming anxiety in social situations.
In 1975, she took black and white head shots of herself in 23 photos for “Untitled #479.” This sequence shows her changing from a bespectacled timid-looking girl into a flirtatious, self-assured, sophisticated young woman. Her 1977-1980 black and white “Untitled Film Stills” series simulated stills from movies made in the 1940s and 1950s. She posed for all the photographs herself, acting as both creator and subject. In each photograph there was a backdrop from a well-known movie with Sherman herself the single female figure.
Most of her best work – like “Untitled Film Stills” and her 1981 “Centerfolds” – involves compressed narratives which the viewers can decipher because they have seen the movie or read the book or fairy tale. She was not just telling a story but making a parody of female role models from her childhood, such as the ‘vamp’, the ‘good housewife’, etc.
In the 1980s, she supplemented her work with digital skills, making large-scale, color photographs of what she calls contemporary ‘characters’. She no longer posed herself but used dolls and prostheses in her “Disaster” and “Sex Pictures” series.
Starting in 1989, Sherman produced a number of “History Portraits” again using herself as the model in parodies of Old Master paintings by artists such as Rembrandt, Carravagio, Botticelli, or Ingres. She played the role of male and female figures with staged props, wigs, and prostheses. She explored not only self-portraiture but the whole genre of portrait-making where a sitter’s status is conveyed by attire, education, and the ability to pay for a full-length portrait.
Sherman’s “Untitled” 2002/2008 depicts herself against a background which was photographed separately and which was often blurred to enhance the theatrical nature of the shot. Her genre also includes horror and pornography as she uses props that are both humorous and disturbing. All her works remain untitled, freeing the viewer to develop their own personal narrative. “I am trying to make other people recognize something of themselves rather than me.”
Over the course of her career, Sherman has had major solo exhibitions worldwide. She had a major retrospective at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 2013. She has won the Guild Hall Academy of the Arts Lifetime Achievement Award in 1995 and a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship in the same year.
Her works are held in important museums collections, including the Centre Georges Pompidou, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art, and Tate Gallery among others.