The Long Shadow of Cindy Sherman

Posted by David Ozanich — 8 Nov 2010

sherman.jpgCindy Sherman "Untitled Film Still #14"

Cindy Sherman's influence as a photographer is felt throughout the culture and the art world. Just over the weekend, she was referenced twice by two of the West's most prominent newspapers.

The Guardian introduces us to Tara Inanloo, a 21-year old Iranian girl whose photographs explore the feminine mystique of women in her homeland. She fears execution if she returns to Iran, and has applied for asylum in Britain:

Inspired by the work of Cindy Sherman, she photographed herself in different disguises - as a Wag, as a bluestocking, as an innocent, as a whore. "I represent the different Iranian women that I discover inside myself," she says. "Disguising is what Iranians grow up with. Disguising is the most important part of my life. I grew up drowning in lies and dishonesty. It is not easy to grow up pretending to be a non-existent creature. You always have to lie. But I have always tried to be an outlaw and cross the boundaries."

Tara Inanloo

Meanwhile, in the United States, the self-taught artist Eugene Von Bruenchenhein has a retrospective of his work at the American Folk Art Museum. Roberta Smith, in her review in the New York Times also invokes the photography of Cindy Sherman:

His real artistic blossoming seems to have been inspired by Marie, whom he met in 1939, when she was 19 and he was 29, and married four years later. Over the next decade or so he took thousands of photographs of her in various states of undress, often wearing clunky heels, garters, scarves, and draped with pearls or flowers. When she dons dresses, they are floral prints. She is almost always seen against one of three or four floral backdrops, seated on small patterned rugs. Despite frequently bared breasts and thighs, the photos feel remarkably innocent.

Von Bruenchenhein's images belong to the complex history of set-up photography that gained critical mass in the early 1980s. Like a proto-Cindy Sherman, Marie assumes female, Hollywood-related roles. She serves as chaste pinup girl, Tahitian princess (or tourist), would-be starlet, Breck Girl, young Madonna (although they had no children) and much more.

Eugene Von Bruenchenhein

Cindy Sherman seems to have solidified a trademark on this type of photography - that which uses a single model to represent a myriad of other types and subjects. Or is it the female presence at the center of the photograph that makes it so uniquely "Cindy Sherman"? On the other hand, the art of self-portraiture is so defining an aspect of the work that I wonder if Von Bruenchenhein's work belongs in a separate category altogether? Both artists deal in fantasy, but Sherman's are a fantasy of the self while Von Bruenchenhein's work is perhaps more about creating and observing his fantasy of a woman, not her own. In any case, it's interesting to notice how truly iconic her oeuvre has become in recent years and how she has become a connective tissue between many different artists. She's permeated the culture in such a deep way that she can be handily referenced as an artistic touchstone and descriptor. Yet it's interesting to see that a man was blazing the trails of her idiom years beforehand.

Cindy Sherman "Untitled Film Still #22"

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