THEMATIC: Portraiture

"Untitled Film Still (#56)," 1980. Black and white photograph, 8 x 10 inches. Edition of 10. © Cindy Sherman. Courtesy Metro Pictures, New York.

Throughout history, artists have made portraits to visually represent or describe themselves and others. Cindy Sherman updates the genre of portraiture by including ideas of role-playing, the influence of film, and her use of traditional and contemporary photographic processes. In her Art in the Twenty-First Century segment, Sherman describes her thinking process, for creating photographic portraits of her characters. Think about her process of transformation and how the images she creates might be considered portraits or self-portraits.

Compare the way Cindy Sherman approaches the genre of portraiture with other artists, including Roni Horn, Collier Schorr, and Kara Walker.

SEGMENT: Cindy Sherman in "Transformation"

Before Viewing
What do portrait photographers create, for whom, and for what occasions?

While Viewing
How would you describe the characters that Sherman creates? Select one portrait and note the visual clues that Sherman has included in the image. What do they tell you about the character that the artist presents? Who is this person? Where is she? Imagine what might have happened to this character in the moments before and after the photograph was taken.

Sherman says that the film world has always been more influential for her than the art world. Describe the images that reflect her interest in cinema, and explain why they do.

After Viewing
Compare Sherman's photographs to portraits from other art-historical periods and other cultures; describe their similarities and differences. Discuss the contexts, intentions, and subjects in other forms of portraiture. How do they relate to or diverge from Sherman's work?

"Untitled (#224)," 1990. Color photograph, 48 x 38 inches. Edition of 6. © Cindy Sherman. Courtesy Metro Pictures, New York.

Create two photographic self-portraits: one by working alone, and the other by working with a partner who can act as photographer and director. Compare the two photographs, decide which presents the "truer" self, and explain why it does.