Born in 1954 in Glen Ridge, New Jersey, Cindy Sherman lives and works in New York NY. Her ground-breaking photographs have interrogated themes around representation and identity in contemporary media for over four decades. Coming to prominence in the late 1970s with the Pictures Generation group alongside artists such as Sherrie Levine, Richard Prince and Louise Lawler, Sherman studied art at Buffalo State College in 1972 where she turned her attention to photography. In 1977, shortly after moving to New York, Sherman began her critically acclaimed Untitled Film Stills. A suite of 69 black and white portraits, Untitled Film Stills sees Sherman impersonate a myriad of stereotypical female characters and caricatures inspired by Hollywood pictures, film noir, and B movies. Using a range of costumes, props and backdrops to manipulate her own appearance and to create photographs resembling promotional film images, the series explores the tension between artifice and identity in consumer culture which has preoccupied the artist’s practice ever since.
Sherman continued to channel and reconstruct familiar personas known to the collective psyche, often in unsettling ways. In 1981, the artist created her Centerfolds, a series of photographic double spreads inspired by men’s erotic magazines. Originally commissioned by Artforum, the spreads were subsequently pulled for fear of backlash. Tightly cropped and shot in color, Sherman’s images show her characters in vulnerable and ambiguous states. By the mid to late 1980s, the artist’s visual language began to explore the more grotesque aspects of humanity through the lens of horror and the abject, as seen in works such as Fairy Tales (1985) and Disasters (1986-89). These highly visceral images saw the artist introduce visible prostheses and mannequins into her work, which would later be used in series such as Sex Pictures (1992) to add to the layers of artifice in her constructed female identities. Like Sherman’s use of costumes, wigs, and makeup, their application would often be left exposed. Her renowned History Portraits begun in 1988 used these theatrical effects to break, rather than uphold, any sense of illusion.
Since the early 2000s, Sherman has used digital technology to further manipulate her roster of characters. For the artist’s Clown series in 2003 she added psychedelic backdrops that are at once playful and menacing, exploring the disparity between the exterior persona and interior psychology of her subject. In her Society Portraits (2008) the artist used a green screen to create grandiose environments for women of the upper echelons of society. These CGI backdrops add to the veneer-like charm of the characters that Sherman portrays, heavily made up and absorbed by societal status in the face of aging. Her later works continue to offer a satirical view of the modern obsession with youth and beauty that has been projected onto women for decades. In her series of wall murals from 2010 (installed for her MoMA retrospective in 2012), Sherman features as a number of different characters against a computerized background in ill-fitting wigs, medieval dress, and no makeup, instead using photoshop to alter her facial features. In her Flappers series from 2016, the viewer is confronted with the vulnerability of the aging process in 1920s Hollywood starlets, who pose in glamorous attire from their prime with exaggerated makeup.
In 2017, Sherman began using Instagram to upload portraits that utilize a number of face-tuning apps, morphing the artist into a plethora of protagonists in kaleidoscopic settings. Disorientating and uncanny, the posts highlight the dissociative nature of Instagram from reality and the fractured sense of self in modern society that Sherman has uniquely encapsulated from the outset of her career.