Untitled Film Still #21, 1978 (©1997 The Museum of Modern Art, New York)
I recently saw the Cindy Sherman Retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York. (By the way, I highly recommend seeing it if you haven’t.)
One phase of her work presented in the exhibit was her black & white “film stills”. Sherman started these in 1977 when she was twenty-three and completed the series in 1980.
Untitled Film Still #35, 1979 (©1997 The Museum of Modern Art, New York)
I liked this phase enough that I actually purchased the book published by MOMA containing the entire series.
The book begins with an essay by Sherman about the making of this series. She talks about how it was probably influenced by her extensive exposure to television as a child. Her time working for the experimental filmmaker Paul Sharits at the State College at Buffalo was also an influence.
Untitled Film Still #7. 1978 (©1997 The Museum of Modern Art, New York)
She gives some history of her studio work environment, both in Buffalo and later in New York City. She got a part-time job at Artists Space, which helped to pay her rent and also kept her in touch with contemporary art and the gallery scene.
Untitled Film Still #6. 1977 (©1997 The Museum of Modern Art, New York)
She gives more history and then gets into the details of how many of the individual images were made. I found it all quite interesting because it gives you a good idea what was going through her head when she made this series.
Untitled Film Still #3. 1977 (©1997 The Museum of Modern Art, New York)
I would like to point out three things she mentions that I found particularly interesting…
- She had various people helping her take these photos (including her father), and they were not experienced photographers. Sherman says she made sure they framed the shots with lots of room around her so she could crop it the way she wanted afterward…and some were cropped extensively!
- Her negatives were technically quite bad and required a lot of dodging and burning, much to her printers’ chagrin.
- She admits that she’s gotten “a little sick of these pictures” because [I presume] she’s looked them over so much, she’d rather not have to keep looking at them!
Untitled Film Still #14, 1978 (©1997 The Museum of Modern Art, New York)
I really enjoyed this book and the inside view it gives of Sherman’s thoughts, intentions, methods, and environment. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys fine art photography or aspires to create fine art photographs, even if you are not interested in the genre of “self-portraits” that her work primarily falls into.
Untitled Film Still #48, 1979 (©1997 The Museum of Modern Art, New York)
It’s a seemingly honest and informative book about what goes on in the mind and life of a hugely successful art photographer. And if you enjoy black & white photos, they’re great to look at, regardless of whether the negatives suck…:-).
You can purchase this book at the MOMA bookstore.
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