Sherman Essay, Research Paper
Artist Cindy Sherman has taken modern society by the bullhorns. Appalled and disgusted by the media myself, I find relief in Sherman s satire use of the camera. Sherman s work is unique in the way that her ideas challenge the notion of innate, female sexuality exposed as the fiction of a real woman through the advertising media. I have recently indulged in the mechanics of photography and for this reason am passionate about the cause for her concern, which I believe she has developed like a true master. Her photographs represent a highly theatrical method of characterizing the ever-changing face of the human condition. Her artistic cause started when she was a young girl, collecting knick-knacks, old clothing, and costume materials. As the youngest of five, Sherman was raised as a middle-class, suburban child from Long-Island New-York. Ironically enough, Sherman failed her first photography course at the College level. However, it wasn t long before Sherman discovered to what extent the lens could warp and mask the human identity. She presents this dehumanizing aspect of the camera by giving little or no explanation regarding her prints, as all of her prints are Untitled. It is through her exploration of the mutilated female image that Sherman developed her theory of the projective eye and it s role in the world of the media. Mimicking the trajectory of this projective eye, she takes the results to an extreme in her collection of photographs entitled Fairy Tales. This series of sexual images reflect her feminist concerns regarding the misrepresentation of the female body.
It is through her exploration of identity issues that Sherman uses her untitled works to dissect the nature of the impact of representation. Sherman introduces her own body as a vessel. She stages several drastically different film characters in her series of Untitled Film Stills. The characters she depicts range from a floozy in a slip with a martini glass, a perky-B librarian, a film noire victim, an innocent runaway, to a voluptuous, lower-class, Italian woman. In the hopes of demonstrating how the human body acts as a medium for the influence of media images, Sherman completely separates herself from her body. Sherman s cause with the idea of identity is reiterated and made quite clear in her neglect to title her images. The simplicity of the presentation of her works allows for Sherman to hint at the voyeuristic nature of her Stills. Much to Sherman s dismay, the construction of identity has too often fallen into the hegemonic tendencies of the silver screen. By deliberately neglecting to include her personality in her portraits, she reminds the viewer that, what keeps [a] child awake at night after a scary movie is not [the] story but [the] image. By successfully personifying her chosen representations of these Hollywood characters, Sherman inevitably raises the issue of their validity. According to Sherman, Hollywood insinuates that identities are easily created and destroyed. In this sense, what Hollywood is manufacturing is actually a desire to conform. In response, Barbara Kruger questions, Is it impossible to construct a way of looking which welcomes the presence of pleasure and escapes the deception of desire?
Untitled Film Still #56(1981, black & white photograph, 8×10), forces the viewer to confront this very identity. This particular image of Sherman s has been labeled as a mirrorical return . The image in the mirror and the viewer exchange glances. Because these gazes bounce back and forth, they result in creating another image. Thus, the third image created is in fact an effect of the other, a body that is merely a projected outcome of the viewer s desires. Because both the viewing subject and the image collapse into the surface of the print, Untitled Still #56 both engages and repels the projective eye. In addition, since the face of the woman is so close, it eventually becomes absorbed in the surface of the image. Within this close proximity, the image becomes blurred, and is then almost obnoxiously blocked off by the back of her head. It is almost as if Sherman proposes that in attempting to see ourselves in the mirror, our identity is blocked by the presence of our body. The reflection is never quite complete in its self, as it is dependant upon the desires of others. (Please refer to attachment A)
I also feel it crucial to relate the intersubjective element of Sherman s work to the cause of an artist by the name of Orlan. Orlan sacrifices her body in the name of art through a series of surgical operations to transform her body. She chooses to alter her identity in the hopes of relaying her inherit desire to trash society s aesthetic abuse of the human body. Orlan feels that her work and it s ideas incarnate in [her] flesh, poses questions about the status of the body in our society and its evolution in future generations via new technologies and upcoming genetic manipulations. (Orlans) (Please refer to attachment B)
Accordingly, Sherman s Untitled Film Stills not only enact the photographed body as a projected vision, they define the woman s body as a stereotyped role. Sherman s work portrays women as victims of the projective eye, which in turn, is a direct effect of a patriarchal society. In Untitled #96(1981, color photograph 24×48), Sherman illustrates the female body as a commodity. Her blank stare, which shies away from the camera immediately, welcomes the projected desires of the viewer. The simple composition of the print strengthens the feeling of imprisonment, which emanates off the print. Sherman appears rigid and flat as if trapped under a sheet of glass, constructing the print s two-dimensional quality. The portrayed adolescent on the tiled, kitchen floor alludes to sexual inclinations, which dictate an allotted space for projected desires. She deliberately directs the viewer s eye to her groin area with her right arm which rests directly above her private area. Aided by the flatness of the pose, the crumpled paper prohibits the gaze from going any further. Sherman s intention in this photograph is to slow the projective eye down. This body is unattainable and inpenetratable. By exploring the dichotomy of the projective eye, Sherman hits upon crucial issues of our modern culture s definition of the woman as an effect of the male gaze. A gaze, as Sherman describes, which invites the male viewer to participate in the oppressive erotics of voyeurism, which have evolved from the pop culture revolution of the sixties and seventies. (Please refer to attachment C)
As each print features a different pose, they also relay the deliberate nature of the multiple poses. Within each photograph, Sherman has constructed a composition, which allows herself to be the object of someone else s gaze. Objectivism is the notion that she illustrates as the core of self-representation. The voyeuristic nature of Untitled #93 (1981,color photograph, 24×48) for example, showing a young girl covering her naked, disheveled body with a black sheet, houses two juxtaposing interpretations of the print. This morning after scene depicted by Sherman has drawn attention to the issue of rape, as some have labeled this print as a photograph of an aftermath of a rape scene. Sherman has stated however, that her intention was in fact to portray a young girl awaking from a night of partying. Personally, the ambivalent nature of this excites me and prompts an admiration of the artist s coyness. This ambivalence seems to negate the woman as the controller of the male s gaze. Nonetheless, it is Sherman s feminist concern that is delivered in this piece. (Please refer to attachment D)
Another issue that is tackled in Sherman s work is the sensuality that has been stripped from woman s body image due to the abuse of Hollywood s camera. Jean Beaudrillard s take on this subject is that,
Truth wants to give herself naked that
hopeless striptease is the very striptease of
reality, which disrobes in the literal sense,
offering up to the eyes of gullible voyeurs
the appearance of nudity. But the fact is that
this nudity wraps it in a second skin, which
no longer has even the erotic charm of
Fairy Tales was a series created by Sherman to underline the sexless ness of the female body as depicted by our pop culture. The photographs are a flat out mockery of pornography in which Sherman proceeds to illustrate through the use of mannequins and doll parts. These works are besieged by an ora of monstrosity, grotesqueness and mutation. In attempting to reflect the twisted, alternated stereotype of the female image, Sherman exaggerates her point almost comically. In Untitled #263(1992, color photograph, 40×60), Sherman makes reference to the mutated image of a woman s sexuality by creating an androgynous form. A ribbon ties the bodies, which have been cropped at the waste, together. Although the print makes explicit reference to femininity with the revelation of the luscious pubic hair and the tampon chord, the figure has a repelling effect on its viewers. The doll, a gendered mutation repulses any attempt at the projective desire at penetrating the image. These series of sexual photographs have been attributed to the rapid development of low budget horror films of the eighties. For this very reason, Sherman uses theatrical tools such as dramatic lighting, vivid colors, costumes, prostheses, wigs, and props. Her attempt at ridiculing the altered display of woman s sexuality was widely considered by the viewer s eye. Her fantastic array of these amputated dolls permits the viewer to understand to what extent the media has manipulated and shaped our individual desires. (Please refer to attachment E)
As Sherman illustrates, the rise of Pop culture and its use of the media has proved itself as a threat to the human condition. In creating highly controversial visual examples that festers in potential parameters for projected desires, Sherman allows her viewer to experience this projective eye in a conscious sense. Her intention, as assumed, is to render her viewers aware that the desires projected into her image are a direct effect of the advertising media s unsuspecting monopoly. The problem of which has caused society s projected desires to diminish individuals a well as strip them of their identity.
Ultimately, underlying the promise of originality in high fashion ads is paradoxically, conformity to a prescribed look. Sherman s Fashion photographs undermine the desirability of such images by emphasizing their contrived nature. As far as I m concerned as a woman, I feel Sherman has gained the upper hand on the stereotyped gender scene. If anything else, it is certain that she has taken the fantastical element of playing dress-up, and heightened the experience for the little girl in every woman.