I’ve been looking forward to seeing the Cindy Sherman exhibit since hearing the Switcheroo episode (#468) on This American Life. In the intro section at the beginning of the episode Ira describes a recent visit to the exhibit at MoMA wherein a woman approaches them saying she is Cindy Sherman. It happens at a moment when Ira’s companion is just realizing that all the photos are of Cindy, playing the different roles, when this woman approaches the two of them and says she visits the exhibition every day to see how viewers react to the work.
The woman is in her late 50’s, appearing to be well-educated and upper middle class, blends in perfectly with the crowd at MoMA… and as Ira and his friend keep talking to her they look at her face, look at the pieces, look back again trying to discern whether or not it is her, she says, “Oh I’m not really Cindy Sherman”. Ira is now convinced it is her. But is Cindy Sherman really showing up at her exhibition to see how people react, or is there a woman pretending to be Cindy Sherman to see how people react? Which is more interesting? Which is the better story? It speaks so perfectly to the exhibition, and as only Ira can do, he calls up Cindy to find out the truth. I’ll let you listen to the episode to see what happens, but seriously, what better introduction could there be for an exhibition?
Usually, I like to look around an exhibit and see what speaks to me, what I glean on my own, but this one was a bit different in that I knew the gist already and really wanted to dig a bit deeper. Female photographers who speak to what it is like to be a woman are always interesting to me, for no profound reason other than I myself am a woman, that I like to just spend more time there. I used the museum’s smART guide, those little iPhone looking icons next to the images with stop numbers, to hear a bit more about each piece. Really cool once I got the hang of it… pro tip that I didn’t learn until about 20 minutes in is that the museum has a guest wifi network you can use so that the audio and video pieces download faster. Waiting for that to come across 3G was infuriating in a Sunday-afternoon-at-the-contemporary-art-museum sort of way.
Untitled 463 had a little smART icon next to it and it was interesting to hear that that year (2008) was the first where Cindy started using digital processes for making her images. There was a little interview with her where she speaks to her lack of a personal life with switch to digital, commenting on the days where the two hours it took for film to be processed would give the opportunity to at least go food shopping. You get the sense that she’s speaking more to her own interest and desire to work and shoot, as opposed to a reference to inescapable deadlines and turnaround times you would hear from, say, a journalist. This shift seems not to have only affected her workflow from a logistical standpoint, but an artistic one as well. Cindy’s more recent work has her making small adjustments to her appearance in Photoshop as opposed to hair, makeup, and styling alone. I begin to look at the images from a distance to see if I can tell whether or not they are film or digital, only later coming close enough to check the year. Anyone who knows me is aware that I still shoot on film, and prefer it in most cases. I shoot digital as well, but film just feels different and you can see and feel it in Cindy’s images.
film just feels different and you can see and feel it in Cindy’s images.
Cindy’s commentary on women is only half the story, half of the conversation. Every piece is untitled. Every piece is “Untitled #” such and such, which at first feels impersonal, but you come to realize (or be told by the smART audio and video pieces) that this is intentional and its purpose is to have the viewer complicit in the interpretations of these characters. You notice details that she has put into the piece, or you don’t, and you have your own back-story to bring to the table. You begin to think of women you know or you have met who could be these characters. You think of who that woman is and what she means to you. You start to look around the room and see these women looking at the same images you are, and you wonder if they see what you see. Cindy has left the door wide open… you don’t know if she reveres or pities a particular character. The logical voice in your head says her opinion is somewhere in between, but you know she has some opinion, and you know that she knows you will have an opinion as well.
You begin to think of women you know or you have met who could be these characters
Not only does one come to think about things in relation to other women known or met, but I also came to think about myself while looking at the pieces. Cindy’s fashion work has its own interpretation on image and what role clothing can have… whether it supports or refutes the intention of that clothing is in many ways, once again, left up to the viewer. I catch a glimpse of myself in the reflection of the glass for one of the prints, and start to question how much of my “look” comes from who I am deep inside, and how much is just what I want to project to other people. I didn’t wash my hair or put on any mascara that day, but I’d be lying if I said my black jeans and South American vintage sweater weren’t put together with at least the smallest of intentions. Effortless is kind of my jam, but I still want to look like a woman.
I catch a glimpse of myself in the reflection of the glass for one of the prints, and start to question how much of my “look” comes from who I am deep inside
I just started kind of sort of seeing someone. It’s new though, brand new, so there’s a lot of awkwardness in just getting to know each other. That said, I do quite like him, so there’s also this dance of not letting myself like him too much, not letting on too much, and still having a great time when we’re together. Who knows what will happen. I live in Austin so seeing this show in Dallas was actually part of a larger trip home to DFW for my father’s 60th birthday, and a good friend’s baby shower. Meaning that, I’ve been gone for a few days, so me and the guy haven’t talked since our last hang out. I’m fine with that, I’m cool… but I come to the part of the exhibition that is my favorite, unexpectedly so.
It’s the centerfold series, which is all in a stereo format and brings to mind correlations between the images and cinema. The dude is into film, we’ve had many a long chat, and I’m just overcome with the need to share something with him that has hit me like a ton of bricks with the show. We text a bit back and forth, nothing special, when I realize I’m standing in front of the centerfold image of Cindy staring with a forlorn expression on her face as she waits by the telephone. What the fuck. I mean… you know Cindy is photographing all of these images, posing in all of these images, in a way that speaks to things that women encounter all the time. As a woman, you relate to her images. I’m aware of this. It’s no secret. But how could I be standing in front of an image made around the time of my birth and be confronted with my own modern-day identical scenario.
Lindsay Hutchens is an award winning photographer and burgeoning art educator living in Austin, Texas, whose perspective and style span a multitude of subject matter and medium. Brooks Institute of Photography graduate, former assistant to Lauren Greenfield, and until recently the Lomographic Ambassador to ATX, she cut her teeth photographing musicians on stage, on the road, in the studio, and at home.