Why does Cindy Sherman’s photograph Untitled Film Still 35 looks so familiar?
- Soft core porn set the rules
- Stereotypes beware Cindy Sherman’s face
- Setting the stage for ankles in Untitled Film Still 35
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Inspired by soft core porn, Cindy Sherman’s Untitled Film Still 35 reframes the male gaze. It’s my favorite photo in this early series of Sherman portraits. On the technical side, these are self portraits. That’s because Cindy Sherman constructs and poses for them. But they’re more complex scenarios than the usual self portraits. Sherman doesn’t portray herself in them. Instead, she brings an element of play to fine art photography.
To prep the photos she stylized scenes and wore costumes. This tactic echoes soft core porn set dressing. Sherman noticed how women in sex industry magazines caricature female roles. So, she created her own parodies. In this photography series Cindy Sherman controlled every aspect. Doing so, she constructed a female identity with her image. This makes it a feminist move in the art world. Sherman created this gelatin silverprint in 1979. At that time, feminists often focused on women’s personae.
So, Cindy Sherman plays dress up. She dresses in wigs and costumes to act out female stereotypes. Her part in these scenes also playacted traditional women’s roles. They touch on familiar film characterizations. But Sherman used generic imagery rather than referring to a specific movie. Her housekeeper costume in Untitled Film Still 35 could be for any such character. One certainty, it’s 100% feminine …and she looks peeved.
After the 70 black and white shots in this first Sherman Untitled Film Series, she shifted into color. But the theme hits harder in these early prints. They speak to the limits of binary thinking in media. She presents women characters in ways that seem typical of movies and TV. The context of fine art photography then shows the absurdity of these portrayals. This often comes through in Cindy Sherman’s facial expression. Untitled Film Still 35 gives us an iconic example. The artist is pissed. It’s all over her face.
Let’s go back to soft core porn – her inspiration for the series. In those pictures, you might find a woman dressed like her. In porn stories women actors often play out gender roles. The soft core photos that inspired this series did it with costumes. Sherman references this. She even wears wigs. Expressions and positions also work the same way in soft core porn shots as they do in Cindy Sherman’s series. We know it’s porn because of the way the women pose their bodies and faces. The costumes represent a cultural relic. That’s why in Untitled Film Still 35 Sherman’s expression and position are also where we find meaning in the piece.
She directs her body away from view. So, we see the costume. But not much of her body in it. This choice serves two purposes. It puts the photograph in direct opposition to soft core porn. Also, this pose serves to hide her hand clicking the button to take the picture. Sherman creates this coverup context to highlight her formulated world. The shield of her turned figure spotlights her ankles. It fits the Victorian standard of scandalous. Yet somehow also reads as sexy.
Sherman gives a bit of gam to remind us of her source material. Still, Untitled Film Still 35 remains high art despite all its naughty magazine references. We can easily imagine the soft core porn version of “cleaning lady”. For certain, the woman in that naughty magazine wouldn’t have this look on her face. In fact, she’d declare the opposite feelings – openness and pleasure. Sherman seems mad at us for even looking at her. It’s the best thing about Untitled Film Still 35. This artist’s mastery works on us with a haughty glance.
Untitled Film Still 35 – FAQs
Why is Cindy Sherman an important artist?
Cindy Sherman covers all the bases when it comes to significance in the art history canon.
Clout – Sherman’s art earned her a Macarthur Genius award as well as an honorary doctorate from London’s Royal College of Art.
Money – Many measure success by the mighty dollar and Sherman will impress these folks. The only woman on a list of NY’s richest artists, Cindy’s number three at an estimated personal worth of $35 million.
Relevance – A 21 piece collection of film stills from the series with Untitled Film Still 35, recently sold for $6,773,000.00 at a Christie’s auction in NYC. Solid financial vengeance for an artist who failed her first college photography class.
Where can I see Untitled Film Still 35 in person?
Untitled Film Still 35 lives at the Whitney Museum of American Art in NYC right now. But it’s also traveled all over the world in various exhibits. This included a major retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art entitled “Cindy Sherman”. That exhibit went on to show at other esteemed museums and included more than 170 photographs.
Why does Cindy Sherman look so familiar?
There are three reasons this question makes perfect sense:
1) Celebrity – After divorcing her fellow artist husband in 1999, she was romantically linked with several celebrities. These include Steve Martin, David Byrne, and Richard Prince.
2) Cindy Sherman’s work almost always includes her own, distinctive face.
3) She puts herself in familiar settings in these works as well. Sherman loves to reference popular images from culture to make a point about how media depicts women.
ENJOYED THIS Untitled Film Still 35 ANALYSIS?
Sherman, Cindy. (1996). Cindy Sherman. Schoon, Talitha., Schampers, Karel., Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen (Rotterdam, Netherlands).
Heartney, Eleanor (2007). After the Revolution Women Who Transformed Contemporary Art. Munich: Prestel.
Cindy Sherman: ‘Why am I in these photos?'”. the Guardian. July 3, 2016.
Belasco, Daniel (April 1, 2005), “Review of The Unseen Cindy Sherman: Early Transformations”, Art in America.
Click if you don’t believe that Victorians sexualized ankles
Sherman, Cindy. “MacArthur Fellows Program”. MacArthur Foundation. John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.
Cindy Sherman Biography, Art, and Analysis of Works”. The Art Story.
Andy Grundberg (July 5, 1987), The 80s Seen Through A Postmodern Lens The New York Times.
Gardner, H., & Kleiner, F. S. (2020). Gardner’s Art through the ages: A global history – (16th edition).
Kimberlee A. Cloutier-Blazzard, Cindy Sherman: Her “History Portrait” Series as Post-Modern Parody, Bread and Circus, July 29, 2007.