Compare and Contrast of Two Photographs
Cindy Sherman in Photography
Cindy Sherman has received many criticisms as a photographer because of her different representations of women which have been often misinterpreted. The perspective of the viewers might be different than the way she sees her subject. Because of those differences, critics attempted to examine her work and provide the meaning for it. However, the findings of those critics differed amongst each other because of the uniqueness in their perspective. Sherman is not a photographer but uses photography to express herself as an artist. Her ways in delivering the essence and appreciation in art challenged the tradition of the society and their view about the meaning of art. In fact, according to her:
“When I was in school I was getting disgusted with the attitude of art being so religious or sacred, so I wanted to make something which people could relate to without having read a book about it first. So that anybody off the street could appreciate it, even if they couldn’t fully understand it; they could still get something out of it. That’s the reason why I wanted to imitate something out of the culture, and also make fun of the culture as I was doing it” - Cindy Sherman (from Mulvey (n.d.) A Phantasmagoria of the Female Body: The Work of Cindy Sherman)
Cindy Sherman, Untitled Film Still, no. 21, 1978
This image is one of the pictures that Sherman took that seems taken from a Hollywood movie. The images of femininity are often the subject of Sherman in expressing her own views on art. Sherman’s presentation of art changes the way on how the woman in her time is looked upon and there is a continuous metamorphosis on her work. Sherman dissects the phantasmagoric or fantastic images of a woman. As the spectator continuously viewing the images she presented, the images are slowly transforming. At first, there is discovery, amusement and amazement and then new curiosity, reverie, and decipherment. In the end, all the innocent images acquire, which is according to Mulyer (n.d.) the retrospective weirdness. For me, Sherman tries to capture how woman will act whenever she is enveloped in a world of her own, and when there is someone looking at her and catching her off-guard. Sherman shows her deeper self image in a more universal plane of her own because she captures the unconsciousness of everyone. The concept of myth is interpreted in the later part of her works which made her work be a center of critical discussions and attacks from the other artists.
Cindy Sherman, Untitled #204, 1989 Ingress, Madame Moitessier, 1856
In Sherman’s work there can be imitation which gives the impression that Sherman is somewhat envious to what the old artists’ achieved, and thus she can’t equal them. But for me it is more than that. Sherman views the icons with respect, wherein the ideas are the same. Her other photographs resemble imitation but this is because Sherman probably thinks that woman are beautiful, regardless of the color of their skin, shape of their face, or culture. I don’t see any stereotyping here because women are beautiful in their own way. If the white woman can do such image then, why the black woman cannot? Woman for me looks the same and composed of one identity that they are beautiful and Sherman is trying to catch this same idea.
The Male Gaze
Maybe Sherman attempted to change the way the people look at women. She explores not only the outside presence of the woman but also their thoughts and literally showing their body parts. In this picture, I can see that men have a deep admiration for women, and this idea still exists in this generation. However, Sherman wants to describe that women is more than an object for admiration or fantasies. For her, women are naturally beautiful but with their strengths and weaknesses. They have doubts, insecurities, they get even angry and jealous; but the men don’t understand the woman’s unique personality. And because Sherman wants to show the true essence of the woman in the society, she finds more freedom to express her art while tickling the curiosity of her audiences.
Horror and Surrealist
Cindy Sherman, Untitled # 177 (1987) Cindy Sherman, Untitled # 255 (1992)
In the time of post modernism, Cindy Sherman’s photograph Untitled, #177, together with one other of her so called “disgust” pictures – Untitled #255, left various comments and questions (Steihaug, 2008). Upon gazing the pictures, there are mixed feelings that appears to be visual shock and its horrific representation as if it is rape, hysteria, sexuality, death that troubles some of my childlike innocence. The image appeared strangely real and at the same time completely artificial. The image (Untitled #177) where the pimples on the girl’s behind, like telling me that girls or women hides something beyond our imagination just to avoid the criticisms and other attacks coming from society. On the other hand, the Untitled # 255 received the concept of abjection from a horror of the maternal body and substances like, according to Steihaug, (2008) “menstrual blood and sexual discharge, vomit and shit, decay and death” to the body “turned inside out” making it pass beyond the abject. It seems that Sherman left many puzzles in her works. I’m starting to wonder where or what kind of imaginary sources Sherman was tapping?” Is it about sex or more than that? If we will focus on the position of woman in the society, maybe Sherman is trying to convey the emotions that woman usually portray under the “male’s gaze”. If the women are just an object of fascination or sex then maybe Sherman represented the subject well.
The work of Sherman is in the degree of cinematic horror. Her use of female grotesque is unique and it seems like no one is going to follow her steps because of the discriminatory judgment of the society. Although this very same idea appeared during Sherman’s time, she remained focus on her advocacy. As I look on those pictures, Sherman in working in an operational way because of the characteristics that is projects. Sherman let the imagination of the audience to conduct its own investigation. As an artist, Sherman’s way of representing the women is far beyond the beautiful maidens that can be only seen in fairy tales. She interpreted the different sides of being a woman which is also different on what the society wants to see. Therefore, she presented the opposite image of the women which might be against to the earlier perception of the society. Sherman reveals her deepest self and inviting the unconsciousness of everyone to play.
I fully understand that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” but Sherman believes deeper as compared to that quotation. Beauty is incomparable and that is why she revealed, the inner thoughts of a woman, their insecurities, difficulties, and although the presentation is gross the femininity stays among her subject. If you see a woman with rosy cheeks, perfect nose, lovely eyes, and curved lips you will immediately adore her even at a first sight. But if you see a woman who has the opposite features of your ideal woman, you can easily judge her as ugly. Sherman, in general, represents the beauty without judging the woman based on any criteria. Women are equally beautiful and her works justifies that fact that women, from the early years until now, are judged based on the society’s perception.
All in all, if there is something present to Cindy Sherman’s photographs, it is the time that seizes us and transports us temporally, as for Margrini’s (2009) term, in her version of beauty. And maybe Margrini is right because I jumped into the events in which Sherman tries to present. Cindy Sherman began the popularity of being “female stereotypes” who might have appeared in 1950s B-movies and invented the characters. Her Untitled Film Stills quickly attracted the attention of art theoreticians because they were photographs, not paintings, and appeared to embody the deconstructionist conception of an individual, which is according to Sandler, (1996)continuously shifting. When you look on those images, you will definitely have doubts if the subject is real or not. Sherman uses the various medium in order to fulfill her objectives which sometimes appear to be vulgar. But that is the way she sees the society. Beyond her work, it explains that the women although a replicate model is representing their own world. Their expression is unique and has an in-depth meaning. Sherman found her voice as an artist, precisely because she doesn’t have to cover the eyes of the people. Indeed Sherman addressed a number of social issues where her contemporaries believed were critical.
Magrini, J., (2009) "The Temporal Aesthetics of Cindy Sherman’s Photography: Revisiting the "Centerfolds" as Single-Frame Cinema" Philosophy Scholarship. Paper 10, Accessed 27 November 2010, from http://dc.cod.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1012&context=philosophypub
Mulvey, L., (n.d.) “A Phantasmagoria of the Female Body: The Work of Cindy Sherman” <Retrieved by Academia in 2010>, Accessed 27 November 2010, from http://bilgi.academia.edu/SaideElifOzkorkmaz/Papers/126286/A_Phantasmagoria_of_the_Female_Body_The_Work_of_Cindy_Sherman
Sandler, I., (1996) Art of the Postmodern Era: From the Late 1960s to the Early 1990s, Icon Editions: New York.
Steihaug, J., (2008) “Abject/Informe/Trauma: Discourses on the Body in American Art of the Nineties”, Accessed 27 November 2010, from www.forart.no/index2.php?option=com_iarticles&no_html
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