Now recognized as one of the most influential living photographers of her generation, Cindy Sherman has something very unique to her—the vision and audacity to transform and even on occasion ridicule herself. With boundless creativity and a never-ending supply of ideas, Sherman uses off-beat humor to disconcert her audiences. We take an in-depth look at the incredible Cindy Sherman, whose photos frequently fetch record prices at auction…

Cindy Sherman: Three key facts

Portrait of Cindy Sherman
Portrait of Cindy Sherman / Source: https://www.justaplatform.com

#1 An artist with a thousand faces

Just who is Cindy Sherman? Many people will know who she is without really being sure what she looks like. The reason? As well as being a skilled photographer, Sherman is constantly exploring a plethora of different identities. She depicts female characters, dressing them up and bringing them to life for a single portrait or series of photos.

Originally from Long Island, Cindy Sherman first studied painting at Buffalo State College (New York), graduating in 1976. She then turned to photography, which she saw as conceptual art. It was this medium she decided to work on, moving to Manhattan a year later.

 Untitled Film Still #21
Untitled Film Still #21 (1978). Credit: Horace W. Goldsmith Fund through Robert B. Menschel / © Cindy Sherman – Source: https://www.moma.org

She gained international renown in 1977 with her series of photos Untitled Film Stills. Throughout her career, the artist has used the lens to explore the concept of identity, but she also taken the subject further, addressing questions surrounding gender and sexuality and providing a very interesting take on the female stereotypes of the 1970s.

#2 A master of staging

Sherman is completely unrecognizable from one photo to the next. And yet, if we look a little closer, there is always a familiar element: her expression, the intention behind the work. There is only one character, and it is her, disguised under a panoply of artifice.

It would be impossible to list all her many inspirations, but they include pop culture, film and advertising.Except that her work gradually moves towards something darker and perhaps even a little scary. She uses prostheses, wigs, and thick layers of makeup, sometimes creating scenes that can be troubling, to say the least.

Cindy Sherman, Untitled 397
Cindy Sherman, Untitled 397

In some of her productions she uses dummies and accessories, and in others shows dismembered bodies, genital organs and horrifying clowns.

At times we are confronted with an unattractive creature displaying unreal proportions, at others a reworking of a Renaissance portrait, a high-flying businesswoman or a sunburnt American, all revealed in a series of portraits rather than self-portraits, as some mistakenly understand them to be.

#3 One of the world’s most bankable contemporary photographers

Cindy Sherman’s arrival on the scene has been a turning point in contemporary photography. She offers a future-oriented vision of the era in which we live, where the online world has taken a dominant place in our daily lives. Creative and boundless, Sherman can seem both very remote and deeply avant-garde.

 Untitled #96, Cindy Sherman
Untitled #96 (1981). Credit: Don de Carl D. Lobell / © Cindy Sherman – Source: https://www.moma.org

In 2011, Christie’s auction house set a new record for the artwork Untitled 96, which sold for $3.89 million, an incredible sum never before achieved by a living photographer. Even in 2010, one of the American’s photos had sold for $2.7 million.

She once said,

“I feel I’m anonymous in my work. When I look at the pictures, I never see myself; they aren’t self-portraits. Sometimes I disappear.”

Did you know?

Cindy Sherman’s Clowns series, published between 2003 and 2004, is probably one of her most enigmatic productions. A frozen smile and almost scary expression appear to be a response to American reactions to the September 11th attacks of 2001.

The artist uses the disguises to break down the masks of society. The clowns display a joyful hysteria but paradoxically create an accompanying feeling of sadness. The concept is clear: wait for better days and more peaceful horizons…

Her greatest works of art

 Untitled #92, Cindy Sherman
Untitled #92 (1981). Credit: The Fellows of Photography Fund / © Cindy Sherman – Source: https://www.moma.org
 Untitled 153, Cindy Sherman Credit: Joel and Anne Ehrenkranz Fund
Untitled 153. Credit: Joel and Anne Ehrenkranz Fund / © Cindy Sherman – Source: https://www.moma.org
Cindy Sherman, Untitled
Cindy Sherman, Untitled (2012)