Dressing up as someone or something else has been a popular Halloween tradition ever since people found it fun just to do so. There is no apparent reason or rationale behind most people's costumes, which makes sense given it's only done one night every year. One person however has found that dressing up can conjure up different accounts from different people at any time of the year. In these images, photographer and artist Cindy Sherman redefines dressing up by presenting self-portraits of other people through herself.
The name Cindy Sherman along with the header image may ring a bell with devoted readers of this blog as the "self-portrait" was featured a few months ago as the most expensive photograph ever sold, fetching a staggering $3.89 million at a Christie's auction. It would be unfair, however, to judge Sherman's work based on the price and image of one photograph. It would be hard to judge her work even after going through most of her photographs, as there's some ambiguity as to who, what and why Sherman photographs these women in the first place.
That's because all of the women posing here are Sherman herself being different people through the same medium. These self-portraits aren't self-portraits after all, but rather commentaries on cultural stereotypes of women in popular media and society as a whole.
Sherman's first came to the public's attention when she presented her Untitled Film Stills (1977-80). Here, she photographs herself in black-and-white in different costumes and locations which are reminiscent of Hollywood films of the golden age. Sherman purposely left them all untitled so that the viewers would be able to come up with stories of their own. Even with the images alone however, it's easy to cast these women in stereotypical roles of the devoted housewife, the loyal secretary, the sultry romantic interest or some other generic plot device.
She continued to act out roles for her photographs, at one time reenacting nobles and aristocrats in old paintings in her History portraits, at another donning on the colorful and sometimes scary makeup of clowns, becoming both anonymous and recognized in her artworks.
On a very basic level, Sherman is simply acting out characters from her imagination, on a deeper level she discards her own identity to portray that of another for a split-second, and on an even deeper level, she tears down the very definition of photography that what is in captured by the camera is objective and truthful.
Or this could all be just Sherman's way of fulfilling her childhood wishes of dressing up for Halloween every day of the year.
Cindy Sherman doesn't have an official website, but you can find a few dozen examples of her artworks over at artnet.com. There's also a few more over at the Art History Archive. For books covering her self-portraits of others, there's Cindy Sherman, Cindy Sherman: The Complete Untitled Film Stills and Cindy Sherman: Working Girl (Decade Series 2005).