If you can't make it to Cindy Sherman's ongoing exhibit at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, then read on to see the famed photographer's evolving body of work. During the '80s, Sherman became more exploratory with her self-portrait set-ups, dabbling in horror and history to highlight her ideas of women in society.
At the beginning of her career, Cindy Sherman created art that imitated life, scrutinizing femininity and female representation in her photography. As time progressed, she began to explore more conceptual themes (on top of shooting in color), resulting in vivid visuals and striking self-portraiture. A stark contrast to her previous aesthetic, this era was a turning point as Sherman became known for her production of playful, propped, poignant portraits.
Rear Screen Projections (1980/1981)
Sherman wanted to keep shooting from her home studio instead of traveling to locations as she did for Film Stills in the ’70s, so by projecting various backgrounds on a wall and standing in front of it, she recreated moments of being in different places and acting as different characters. The vague geographical spaces are juxtaposed with a strongly posed subject in the foreground, baring a more contemporary look and showcasing a more modern technique than in Film Stills. Sherman in Projections represents the increasing abilities and roles of women then, suggested by more confidence in body language (like in the photo where she has a glass of beer on the street).
Disasters and Fairy Tales (1985-1989)
A completely radical shift in Sherman’s style was Disasters, a collection of gritty and grotesque images reminiscent of thriller flicks and horror movies wherein the victims are almost always females. About the disturbing theme, the artist says “it prepares you psychically for the potential for violence in your own life. Or your own death. I think it’s also a way to be removed enough from it to even laugh at it. It just further prepares you for something that you don’t look forward to having to experience.” This was the beginning of Sherman’s focus on creating truly unique imagery which holds more depth and resonance than the overt make-up and elaborate set designs it features.
History Portraits (1988 – 1990)
History repeats itself, albeit with a postmodern twist, in these self-portraits based on the epics, hymns, and books of old. Inspired by artwork from 15th – 18th century Florence and artifacts found while living in Rome, this collection is said to be her most successful because of “its satirical art historical references and sheer wit” as well as the “inherent commentary on and deconstruction of Western portraiture.” Painted, propped, and photographed by Sherman, History Portraits is as Renaissance as an artist could possibly be.
“I’m illiterate in the historical, classic knowledge of photography, the stuff teachers attempted to bore into my head, which I resisted. The way I’ve always tried to cull information from older art and put it into my work is that I view it all anonymously, on a visceral level.” —Cindy Sherman
Stay tuned for more features on Sherman’s work in the Magazine this week!