'Sherman's (self)portraits are uncanny and alive': Helen McCrorie, Harry Maberly and Damian Cifelli on the influence of Cindy Sherman

This article is from 2019

'Sherman's (self)portraits are uncanny and alive': Helen McCrorie, Harry Maberly and Damian Cifelli on the influence of Cindy Sherman

Courtesy of Metro Pictures, New York / THE SAMMLUNG VERBUND Collection, Vienna

As a rare retrospective on New Jersey-born photographer and filmmaker Cindy Sherman arrives in Edinburgh, we ask some EAF participants what her art means to them

Early on, Cindy Sherman found a way of working which not only felt right and real, but has guided her output across the best part of 50 years. Without the means to pay for models, make-up artists or a wardrobe consultant, Sherman chose to simply do it all herself. Those financial constraints have long since lifted, but the artist chose to carry on with her solo endeavours, admitting that any time she used other people in her shots or films, things never worked out the way she wanted them to.

Gaining instant critical acclaim in the mid-70s with her early self-portraits re-imagined as film stills where she would often be reacting to something happening just out of shot (often evoking paranoia, anxiety or fear), international recognition was not far behind. Rather than repeat herself, the work soon became almost gruesome as she made herself up as grotesque clowns or stylized corpses, featuring fake limbs or plastic breasts, and surrounded by rotting food or fake vomit. Sherman was setting out to challenge an art world which had fully embraced her, daring it to confront her new emboldened vision: 'let's see them put this over the dining room', as she would muse later.

As she exhibits photographs from that early Untitled series for a rare Scottish visit, we hear from other Edinburgh Art Festival participants about their personal reactions to the revolutionary work of Cindy Sherman and how it has informed their own art …

Helen McCrorie

Cindy Sherman's approach is very different to my own, but we share an interest in the performativity of gender. While Sherman restages iconic imagery from Western culture in an attempt to draw attention to the construction of the subject, I am interested in using my camera to explore and reflect on human behaviour.

My new film, showing at Collective, centres on a child-led outdoor playgroup that meets in the grounds of a former military camp in Scotland. In this work I explore the way families adopt a site for imaginative play and experiential learning, using the lens to focus on narratives that are often marginalised in patriarchal society. I am drawn to Sherman's reflexive approach in her film-still series from 1979-80, in which female stereotypes and narratives that play out in popular cinema are called into question.
Helen McCrorie: If play is neither inside nor outside, where is it?, Collective, Edinburgh, 13 Jul–6 Oct, Tue–Sun, 10am–5pm, free.

'Sherman's (self)portraits are uncanny and alive': Helen McCrorie, Harry Maberly and Damian Cifelli on the influence of Cindy Sherman

Courtesy of Metro Pictures, New York / THE SAMMLUNG VERBUND Collection, Vienna

Harry Maberly

Cindy Sherman's (self)portraits are uncanny and alive. Her attention to detail and ability to stage what feels like a glimpse into the life of someone we know, want to know, or don't want to know, is endlessly engaging. All images are theatrical, and Sherman uses that theatricality of presentation to analyse the extent to which a fictional image is separate from reality if we adopt it as an idea or ideal which then manifests within us.

Her work is all the more captivating with the knowledge that it is Sherman herself in every one of the portraits. She's not only exploring our society's relationship to images and the ways in which they impact and inform our culture, but also her relationship to them as an individual, trying to better understand her own identity. This honesty is what makes the photographs powerful and ageless, because the images around us change over time, but we never stop aspiring towards them.

Sherman takes power from the mass of images that we're powerless to consume and produce, and shows us that we can take that power too; an attitude that is guiding me in my current pursuit to embody Kate Bush through film.
Harry Maberly is part of Platform: 2019, The Fire Station at Edinburgh College of Art, 25 Jul–25 Aug, Mon–Sun, 10am–5pm, free.

'Sherman's (self)portraits are uncanny and alive': Helen McCrorie, Harry Maberly and Damian Cifelli on the influence of Cindy Sherman

Courtesy of Metro Pictures, New York / THE SAMMLUNG VERBUND Collection, Vienna

Damian Cifelli

For me, Cindy Sherman is a master storyteller. Her biggest influence on my work is through the Untitled Film Still series, where she captures a crucial moment from a non-existent film. Within each photograph, she suggests a multitude of possibilities through the choice of clothing or a certain look. Each of those decisions affects the way we interpret the image and we are compelled to fill in the rest of the story, one which will be different for every viewer.

Her idea that portraiture can be set-up and designed to tell a story completely re-imagines our traditional forms of storytelling. Through her photographs, I learned that withholding information can make for a better story. By giving us just a glimpse, she makes us tell it to ourselves.
Damien Cifelli: Tarogramma Archive, Italian Cultural Institute, Edinburgh, 25 Jul–7 Aug, Mon–Thu, 10am–5pm, Fri, 10am–noon, free; The Dundas Street Gallery, Edinburgh, 10–16 Aug, Mon–Fri, 10am–7pm, Sat, 11am–2pm, free.

Cindy Sherman: Early Works, 1975-80, Stills: Centre for Photography, Edinburgh, until 6 Oct, Mon–Sun, 11am–6pm, free.

Edinburgh Art Festival

Scotland's largest annual celebration of visual art offers work by the best contemporary Scottish artists as well as exhibitions of the most important international artists and movements of the 20th century and other historical periods.

Cindy Sherman: Early Works, 1975-80

  • 5 stars

Seminal early works from from photographer Cindy Sherman.

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