Untitled Film Still #28


Cindy Sherman ( American, 1954 )

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General Description

In this photograph, part of the celebrated Untitled Film Stills series of black-and-white photographs Cindy Sherman created in the late 1970s, a pathetic female figure is seen cowering in the corner between two doors of an apartment building, her feet bare, her hair in disarray, and an imploring, suffering look on her face. This spare stage is central to the tense ambiguity of Untitled Film Still #28, a self-portrait in which Sherman takes on one of many guises inspired by female film heroines of the 1950s. In the case of each film still of the series, Sherman constructs a space and a situation based not on actual films, but on character types that have become stock in our collective cultural imagination. Here Sherman is perhaps a spurned lover or a mental asylum escapee. Whatever the case, she redefines conventional notions of self-portraiture as she assumes clichéd identities at will. Her photographs are not factual records but rather fictions premised on the notion that self-representation is always a performance of some kind. As viewers, we are presented with all the details of a narrative we can never know, relayed by a medium, photography, that we think we know all too well.

As the character most often featured in her photographs, Sherman takes the helm in creating her tableaux, transforming her literal self for each shoot. Sherman is one of many women in the late 1970s who investigated the terrain of constructed images, particularly those taken from 'low' culture. The continually asserted truths of high modern art with which these artists grew up, such as the primacy of abstract form, failed to satisfy their desire to make an art that reflected contemporary experience in a postmodern world. Like many artists of the era, Sherman returned to the human figure, which had largely been banished by modernism, and reintroduced subject matter that mimicked the conventions of Hollywood but which, in its strangeness and imperfection, suggested a world far more complex and disturbing than the mass media would ever let on.

Adapted from

  • Charles Wylie, "Untitled Film Still #28," in Dallas Museum of Art: A Guide to the Collection, ed. Charles Venable (New Haven, NJ: Yale University Press, 1997), 288.

  • Label copy, _Life in Space: Staging Identity, _March 6, 2009