Cindy Sherman, Untitled #359, 2000 and #299, 1994
Cindy Sherman, Untitled #359, 2000 (left). #299, 1994 (right). Courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures, New York.

American photographer and artist Cindy Sherman established her decades-long career by focusing her work on a very specific person—herself.

Contents:
Cindy Sherman’s Early Years
The Evolution of Sherman’s Art
Cindy Sherman’s Enduring Legacy


Cindy Sherman Untitled Film Still #45, 1979
Cindy Sherman, Untitled Film Still #45, 1979. Courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures, New York.
Cindy Sherman Untitled Film Still #12, 1978
Cindy Sherman, Untitled Film Still #12, 1978. Courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures, New York.

Cindy Sherman’s Early Years

Born in Glen Ridge, New Jersey in 1954, Sherman grew up primarily in Huntington, New York. Following her graduation from high school in 1972, Sherman enrolled at the State University of New York at Buffalo where she majored in painting and photography. After graduating in 1976, she began work on her landmark exhibit, “Untitled Film Stills,” 1977–1980, which features 69 black-and-white self-portraits of her dressed as B-list movie actresses. 

After the success of “Untitled Film Stills,” Cindy Sherman released “Rear Screen Projections” in 1980, followed by “Centerfolds/Horizontals” in 1981. The use of color and larger imagery in both series served as a departure from her well-known black-and-white photos and marked a new era in her career. 

Cindy Sherman Untitled Film Still #6, 1977 and #7, 1978
Cindy Sherman, Untitled Film Still #6, 1977 (left). #7, 1978 (right). Courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures, New York.
Cindy Sherman, Untitled #66, 1980
Cindy Sherman, Untitled #66, 1980. Courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures, New York.
Cindy Sherman, Untitled #223, 1989 and #225, 1990
Cindy Sherman, Untitled #223, 1989 (left). #225, 1990 (right). Courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures, New York.

The Evolution of Sherman’s Art

Known largely for her self-portraits, Sherman has spent her career making statements about popular constructs of female identity. Whether dressing as a classic movie star or a housewife, the images prompt questions about femininity, identity, and female representation. 

Her first major exhibit in 20 years, “Cindy Sherman: Imitation of Life,” was displayed at The Broad art museum in Los Angeles from June to October 2016 and included 120 images spanning her career. 

Named after a 1959 film directed by Douglas Sirk and curated by Philipp Kaiser, the exhibit explored Sherman’s connection with 20th-century film and pop culture. The exhibit was later shown at the Spruth Magers gallery in Berlin in 2017 as well as at the Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus, Ohio. 

“The work is what it is and hopefully it’s seen as feminist work, or feminist-advised work, but I’m not going to go around espousing theoretical bullshit about feminist stuff.”

— Cindy Sherman
Cindy Sherman, Untitled #355 and #360, 2000
Cindy Sherman, Untitled #355 (left). #360, 2000 (right). Courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures, New York.
Cindy Sherman, Untitled #420, 2004
Cindy Sherman, Untitled #420, 2004. Courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures, New York.

Cindy Sherman’s Enduring Legacy

Although her work is often considered feminist in nature, Sherman emphasizes that this is more of an implicit attribute rather than an explicit one. In a 2003 interview with fellow artist Betsy Berne, Sherman stated that she doesn’t want to have to explain herself and the choices she makes. “The work is what it is and hopefully it’s seen as feminist work, or feminist-advised work, but I’m not going to go around espousing theoretical bullshit about feminist stuff.”

Despite her reticence in this respect, Sherman remains a feminist icon to many, and her critiques of art, gender, and popular culture continue to inspire new generations of artists around the world.


This feature originally appeared in the Body issue. Find more inspiring stories from the Body issue here or check out our Women in History section.