November 4, 2008 |  Tagged , , , , , , | Comments Off on Response

— Joan Bowlen

I think the ability to read these images as portraits stems from a more wide spread idea of the role that the portrait plays. I see the portrait as the framing of the human face within a 2-D plane, using the artist’s own emotive reading of the face in order to create a sense of the sitter. The portrait is a complete reflection of the interplay between the site and the artist’s hand.

Because of this, Sherman’s use of prosthetic body parts work as props in creating a self image. Just as the bronze staffs, jeweled crowns, and silk curtains sometimes found in older oil portraits established symbolic readings of the sitter, so to do these prosthetic limbs. The swollen tongue of #150 presents a vision of Cindy Sherman as some kind of Gulliver’s Travels-like, grotesque figure. This figure definitely draws ties to sexual desire and foreplay, but that doesn’t limit the image as a portrait.

I feel like these photographs actually come closer to the essence of portraiture due to nature of the subjects. Here the horrific images are more ambiguously drawn than in the Untitled Film Stills (1978-1980) or Centerfolds (1981), from which direct visual comparisons can be made between the original and Sherman’s appropriation (films can be found which closely match the scenarios constructed by Cindy).

In the case of Disasters, Sherman created worlds completely foreign to the modern experience, these worlds are products of her imagination and her own visualizations of the verbal fairy tale. In my mind, these personal visualizations make these photographs of her face (regardless of how visible her actual skin is) much more telling regarding her inner thoughts and intentions than the photographs which came before. But I don’t believe she ever gets away from the act of portrayal throughout the entirety of her work.

Though I definitely agree that the Disaster series presents a definite shift in direction within Sherman’s commentary on the Other and the subjugation of women within the male gaze. This reading of her work is still there, but the nature of the compositions reveal a much more liberated sense of Cindy herself as apposed to the restricted frames of the earlier film still appropriations.


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