Cynthia Morris Sherman, known professionally as Cindy Sherman, was born on January 19, 1954 in Glen Ridge, New Jersey. In 1972, Sherman enrolled in the visual arts department at Buffalo State College, where she began painting. During this time, she began to explore the ideas which became a trademark of her work, including dressing herself as different characters from thrift-store clothing. Frustrated with what she saw as the limitations of painting as a medium of art, she abandoned it and took up photography. Sherman has said that she felt that “. . . there was nothing more to say [through painting]. I was meticulously copying other art and then I realized I could just use a camera and put my time into an idea instead.”
Sherman first came to prominence in the late 1970s within an informal group of artists known as the Pictures Generation. Known for their critical analysis of media culture, the group was comprised of artists such as Richard Prince, Robert Longo, Sherrie Levine, and Barbara Kruger. It was during this period that Sherman began her first and most notable bodies of work, the “Untitled Film Stills” (1977-1980). Comprised of 69 black-and-white photographs, each photograph shows Sherman acting out various stereotypical female roles depicted in film media, with an aura that recalls B movies and film noir.
Since the debut of the “Untitled Film Stills,” Sherman has continued to play the role of both photographer and her camera’s own exclusive subject. The artist has created a groundbreaking body of work that explores the nature of representation and the ways in which the images of film, television, and advertising influence our understanding of our identity and of the world around us. Employing elaborate makeup, costumes, and props to transform herself, Sherman creates “portraits” that mine the stereotypes and genres of art history and mass media while drawing attention to the power structures that have shaped this imagery.
Preferring to work in series, Sherman has transformed herself into a wide-range of figures. Notable of these is her series of “Centerfolds,” begun in 1981 which, like the “Film Stills,” subvert stereotypical tropes of femininity by presenting characters in the horizontal centerfold format who are uncharacteristically fully clothed and lost in deep contemplation. Sherman’s series of “History Portraits” (1988-1990) depict her as pastiches of old master paintings, while her “Society Portraits,” begun in 2008, see her embodying the archetypes of aging wealthy women.
Sherman's work is often credited as a major influence for contemporary portrait photographers. Today, the artist’s work is held in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago; the Broad Museum, Los Angeles; the Jewish Museum, New York; the Menil Collection, Houston; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; and Tate Modern, London. In 2012, the Museum of Modern Art in New York hosted a major retrospective of her work.
Cindy Sherman currently lives and works in New York, NY.