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Cindy Sherman: A Manufactured Portrait

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The projection of oneself onto an creative canvas has been repeated numerous times throughout humanity, however none have captured the power of the human experience quite like Cynthia Sherman. Cynthia “Cindy” Sherman is an inscrutable photographer and movie director who came on the scene more than thirty years ago, rising to the fame in the 1970’s with her provocative self-portraits, and continues developing them today. Her work has been observed and analyzed based on the radical transformations that she carries out from one photo to the other. She has always been a very creative person with great imagination. When she was a girl, she loved fantasy games and playing dress-up. Later, when it was time to select her career, she decided to develop in the artistic world of photography and narrative images, always being the main character in her works; in all of them, she tries to challenge society, playing with stereotypes. Sherman’s main creations are portraits of herself, which always projecting different identities. Each of her creations are distinct and special, conveying a specific tone within each individual frame. Self-portraits are not a revolutionary genre of art by a long shot, and while "Candy Self Portrait" may seem shallow and flippant at first glance, its careful use of imagery, composition, and symbolism suggests far deeper meanings.

Sherman incorporates certain visual elements within each of her pieces to create a sort of double entendre. When most people think of candy, they think of childhood, sugar, pleasure, and happiness. Candy is something that is often associated with fun, such as fairground rides or Halloween; it also, however, has a darker side, in the form of obesity, eating-disorders, and poor health. As Cindy explains “I have had a tough childhood where I had a compulsion of dressing u which made me prefer to live alone.” (Cindy Sherman - Nobody's Here But Me) The image’s use of color, line, and allusion combine to suggest the way many women in American culture may end up feeling like consumer products instead of real human beings. In this photograph, bright color is used to create a falsely cheerful image. The radiant pink of the woman’s hair, the shocking red of her lipstick, and the bright oranges and yellows of the candy necklace she wears all combine to suggest that this is an image of cheerful, bright, happy childishness. The brilliant pastel colors, however, create a striking contrast to the dull green background, the chalky white of the paint on the woman’s face, and the dark brown dress the woman is wearing. Taken together, these colors suggest that underneath the brightness, there are darker emotions at play. By superimposing the bright colors on top of the darker and more grown-up somber hues, the image suggests to viewers that the first impression of cheerful happiness is only an illusion, which is at best superficial. This striking use of color is only further supported by the draws to specific areas of the piece.

The ways in which Sherman’s images are manufactured and frames give way to their possible underlying tones. “Sherman’s photos are a reflection of modern day community of how feminists struggle with their life (Pogrebin and Robin.).” The composition of the portrait is used specifically to draw attention to the elements of the photograph that clash with one another. For example, the lines of the necklaces draped around the woman’s neck, together with the silhouette created by the headband that she wears, all contribute to the effect of framing the subject’s face and enclosing it. Not only does this draw attention to her face, which is already positioned in the center of the photograph; the use of shadows to frame the face also has the effect of creating an outline within this already static world, with the first being the edge of the image, and the second being the circle of candy around her face. This double framing supports the idea that there is no reality within the image: there is only an image of an image. This is almost a reference to the fact that the viewer is taking in something highly planned and “plastic”. This method of subverting ideas is only improved with Sherman’s many references to the world at large.

By referencing how reality “should be” and how it “really is,” as represented in her works, Sherman takes the idea home that this image is not of any possible world within humankind (Aylmer and Olivia) as explained by Olivia. Her images extensively utilize allusion to reinforce the idea of unreality and concealment. The bright wig and shocking red candy lips, with the white make-up, allude to the popular figure of the clown. With its cultural history as a figure who is comical because it is sad, the clown made of candy therefore suggests that the woman must conceal who she truly is in order to present a pleasing, happy facade to the world. Furthermore, the framing of the clown face as described above indicates that this facade hides the real woman and renders her unreal – she becomes nothing more than something to be gazed at (a picture in a frame), and to be consumed, such as the candy she is covered in (Cindy Sherman: Characters).

Taken together, these different elements of the “Candy Self Portrait” add up to a suggestion that women in today’s society must constantly hide the less acceptable elements of themselves in order to present to the world a self that is acceptable for public consumption. The contrasting elements of the photograph furthermore suggest that this necessary concealment can cause deep unhappiness and a divided self: the image suggests the hidden evil, in much the same way that eating too much candy will always, inevitably, make a person feel sick.

Works Cited

art21org. “Cindy Sherman: Characters | ART21 "Exclusive".” YouTube, YouTube, 1 Apr. 2011, www.youtube.com/watch?v=tiszC33puc0.

Aylmer, Olivia. “How Cindy Sherman Made Shapeshifting an Art All of Its Own.” AnOther, AnOther Magazine, 21 Dec. 2016, www.anothermag.com/fashion-beauty/9379/how-cindy-sherman-made-shapeshifting-an-art-all-of-its-own.

Pogrebin, Robin. “‘Cindy Sherman: Once Upon a Time’ at the Mnuchin Gallery.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 19 Apr. 2017, www.nytimes.com/2017/04/19/arts/design/cindy-sherman-once-upon-a-time-at-the-mnuchin-gallery.html?rref=collection%2Ftimestopic%2FSherman%2C Cindy.

tw19751. “Cindy Sherman - Nobody's Here But Me (1994).” YouTube, YouTube, 26 Nov. 2012, www.youtube.com/watch?v=UXKNuWtXZ_U.

October 26, 2021
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