Perhaps Cindy Sherman isn’t as well-known as some of the photographers in our Inspired By series, but don’t let that fool you – her influence and impact on portrait photography are just as important as any of the great masters.
Born in New Jersey, Cindy quickly realised that her first-choice artistic medium of painting was limiting her imagination and taking too much time to produce results. Switching to photography freed her creativity and allowed her to focus on ideas rather than what she felt was the tedious task of building up a painting.
The Cindy Sherman style
The powerful and strong-minded Cindy Sherman was never going to conform, and most of her work has been based around breaking female stereotypes – including her first, and possibly most important series, called Untitled Film Stills, in which she posed for 69 black and white self-portraits. Each one depicted a stereotypical female role with Cindy looking away from the camera as if questioning that position and its validity.
Her conceptual portraits seek to provoke the viewer to question the objectification of females – especially in the media – and poke fun at society’s obsession with the sexualisation of the human form. In later years she used colour to help bring life to the characters she was creating with her self-portraits and increasingly made them more cartoonish.
Learning from Cindy
Although we haven’t talked about the technical side of Cindy’s work, she’s clearly a skilled portrait photographer. She uses light and colour to create moods as well as anyone, but only to enhance the story she’s telling in her pictures – at no point do you notice her technique over the subject. This is an important skill to cultivate if you’re interested in creating compelling images rather than eye-candy (although there’s nothing wrong with that!).
The most important thing to learn from Cindy is that having a passion and drive to say something important can give you all the impetus and encouragement you need to develop a style and follow your creative impulses. She has never been afraid to tackle uncomfortable subjects head-on, and that’s why she’s been such an influential artist for so long.
Cindy Sherman is one of our favourite portrait photographers of the past 50 years, and we hope that we’ve encouraged you to check out her work and learn from her approach.
11 February, 2021