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September 7, 2021

Untitled Film Stills: Amazing Self-Portraits by Cindy Sherman in Different Stereotypical Female Roles From the Late 1970s

Untitled Film Stills is a series of black and white photographs by American visual artist Cindy Sherman predominantly made between 1977 and 1980, which gained her international recognition.

In the series, Sherman posed in various stereotypical female roles inspired by 1950’s and 1960’s Hollywood, Film noir, B movies, and European art-house films. They represent clich├ęs or feminine types (the office girl, bombshell, girl on the run, housewife, and so on) “that are deeply embedded in the cultural imagination.” The characters in all of these photographs are always looking away from the camera and outside of the frame. Sherman cast herself in each of these roles, becoming both the artist and subject in the work.

All of the images are untitled, as Sherman wanted to preserve their ambiguity. The numbers affiliated with individual works of art are assigned by her gallery, mainly as a cataloguing system. In December 1995, the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) acquired all sixty-nine black-and-white photographs in the series. Sherman later decided to add one more image, bringing the series to seventy.

In the essay The Making of Untitled, Sherman reflects on her beginnings with this series:
“I suppose unconsciously, or semiconsciously at best, I was wrestling with some sort of turmoil of my own about understanding women. The characters weren't dummies; they weren’t just airhead actresses. They were women struggling with something but I didn’t know what. The clothes make them seem a certain way, but then you look at their expression, however slight it may be, and wonder if maybe “they” are not what the clothes are communicating. I wasn’t working with a raised “awareness,” but I definitely felt that the characters are questioning something-perhaps being forced into a certain role. At the same time, those roles are in film: the women aren’t being lifelike, they’re acting. There are so many levels of artifice. I like that whole jumble of ambiguity.”

(Photos by © Cindy Sherman / MoMA)


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