Another Candle on Cindy Sherman’s Cake

Cindy Sherman

Contemporary conceptual photographer Cindy Sherman (b. 1954) turns 57 today, so make sure you wish her a very happy birthday should you pass her by. Born in New Jersey and schooled at SUNY-Buffalo, with her edgy portraiture and ever-updating style, Sherman creates images that are among the most valued of today’s female photographers.

Feeling initially constrained by the painting milieu in art school, Sherman found greater satisfaction in photography. She first hit it big in 1977 with her Untitled Film Stills, a series of 8-by-10, black-and-white glossy photographs of herself. Dressed in costume, Sherman portrayed the archetypical actress roles from a variety of film genres, including film noir, B-movie and foreign.

In what is seen by some as a comment on female roles and femininity, the characters ranged from “housewife” to “upset woman." "She's good enough to be a real actress," pop art icon Andy Warhol once said of the series.

Sherman's trend of image distortion and masquerade continued with her Disasters and Fairy Tales series (1985-1989); however, for the first time she wasn’t the model in all the images. Shot in saturated blues, greens and reds, she placed herself in strange, often disgusting settings, again dressed in bizarre outfits. A certain beauty emerged from the filth.

In an untitled 1983 work, held in the collections of the Smithsonian's Hirshhorn Museum, Sherman's coy pose leaves the viewer wanting to understand the narrative behind the image. A 1995 MacArthur "genius grant" winner, Sherman has explored feminist issues in her different portrait series while serving as her own subject matter, yet she's managed to reveal only just a small part of herself, keeping much hidden.

"I feel I'm anonymous in my work, " she explained in a 1990 interview with The New York Times. "When I look at the pictures, I never see myself; they aren't self-portraits. Sometimes I disappear."

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