Cindy Sherman: The Complete Untitled Film Stills Hardcover – Oct 2 2003
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From Publishers Weekly
Sherman's provocative and much-discussed Untitled Film Stills series, created between 1977 and 1980, is collected for the first time in this 9.5" x 11.25" volume from MoMA, which purchased the entire set of 69 shots in 1995. Sherman's mysterious and perplexing "portraits" should not really be called "self," since Sherman appears solely in the guises of others, donning the clothing, wigs and makeup of various female '50s and '60s film "types" (the forgotten wife, the boozy hussy, the working girl, etc.) and elevating the art of playing dress-up to a whole new level. In her disarmingly honest introduction to the book, Sherman says of the European film stars like Simone Signoret, Sophia Loren or Jeanne Moreau, from whom she drew her inspiration, "What I was interested in was when they were almost expressionless," a rare occurrence in posed and artificial publicity shots. But while Sherman's photographs may initially resemble film stills, their grainy, dodgy quality (Sherman says, "I didn't care much about the print quality; the photographs were supposed to look like they cost fifty cents"); her disturbingly blank expression and chameleon-like ability to disappear into character; and the backgrounds of empty New York City streets and rundown lofts (in some ways, the photos act as a historical archive of a time when a less-gentrified New York functioned as a giant playground for artists) all conspire to give necessary dissonance to the myths Sherman explores. Sherman began making the series at the age of 23, and it soon established her as a major voice in the contemporary art scene, adding a much-needed female presence in what is more often than not a hyper-macho field. In the process of questioning the portrayal of women, Sherman questioned the art of portraiture itself and its uneasy place in 20th-century American society, opening a different path on which to proceed.
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Who will like this book? I think just about anyone with an interest in art or photography would consider this a "must have" book for their personal library. Nothing in this book would embarrass you if you gave it as a gift; it is edgy, but not to the point of weirdness. I just gave a copy to my 10-year-old daughter for inspiration and she really enjoyed it (though probably not at the level of an adult). If you are willing to look, this book will reward you.
Like any great artist, she makes it look easy. Her singular vision is apparent in the location selection, "set" design, makeup and costuming. If you have ever tried to do this yourself, you will respect what she has accomplished. The end result is that Ms. Sherman reveals what she wants us to believe are her innermost thoughts and emotions. Like great cinema, these photos achieve true suspension of disbelief and challenge the viewer's own framework of emotional identity. In the end, we believe.
Arguably, these are the best work ever done by Ms. Sherman. One complaint about her newer work is that it seems to continue to retread the same themes and variations. Sure, her newest works are bigger and colorful in keeping with the latest trends in photography -- personally, my favorites are the images in this book. There is a freshness I don't find in her later work. But this human story, like her imagery, will always continue to be explored by artists as long as there are humans to explore.