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7 February 2011
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We Are Family

Unititled Film Still #14, 1978 Cindy Sherman

Unititled Film Still #14, 1978 © Metro Picture Gallery & Cindy Sherman

From French philosophy, down through academia and into the lofts of Soho came the steady drip, drip, drip of a radical new 'ism': post modernism. It was only a matter of time before it seeped into the photographic darkroom.

"The premise of post modernism is that we now live in a culture so saturated with media imagery and media models of how people live that our idea of how one lives one's life and who one is, is made up of that kind of media myth. And in a sense it negates the idea of portraiture, the idea that you can dress up and go to a studio and somehow reveal your strength of character, or your inherent humanity or whatever. You don't have an inherent humanity in the post modernist analysis of these things we are all these composites of a lot of myths and narratives written by other people." (Colin Westerbeck, Writer)

But you can still dress up which is exactly what artist Cindy Sherman loved doing. She turned a familiar children's game, 'dressing up as someone else,' into art by photographing the result. In her series called 'Untitled Film Stills' Sherman created over a hundred publicity shots reminiscent of scenes from old B movies. She appears in every one as a general type you seem to recognise only all too well. In denying her own identity she also captured something of the times.

"She's got this incredible plasticity; you wouldn't recognise her in the street. I think that many people originally felt that these were self-portraits ... but she didn't do that. I don't think she has done a portrait of anybody, these are all imaginary creatures. The Girl capital 'G' in this situation, in that situation, she's in danger, she's in love, she's opening a letter, like the starlet who has no identity other than the identity the director gives her � you're going to be a nurse in this film, you're going to be a secretary in this film." (Arthur C. Danto, Philosopher and Art Critic)

The 'queen of no identity' now doesn't even venture into the streets to make her pictures. Exterior scenes are done with back projection everything is constructed and everything is done by her, whoever she is.

She's her own director, she's her own cameraman, I don't know what a best boy is but she's the best boy. She doesn't even have an assistant ... She's just got this table with wigs and so forth and a mirror. When I first met her I asked her 'Why did you stop doing the untitled film stills?' and she just said 'I ran out of clichés'. (Arthur C. Danto, Philosopher and Art Critic)

Extract from 'We Are Family', Genius of Photography (Wall to Wall)

We Are Family

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