Cindy Sherman: A Paper Classic

David Hershkovits

In honor of Cindy Sherman's MoMA retrospective opening this Sunday, we're sharing a few highlights from David Hershkovits' 2008 Guru interview with the groundbreaking artist. "Cindy Sherman" runs through June 11th and spans the photographer's career from the '70s to the present, including her acclaimed "Untitled Film Stills," her celebrity history series and her 2008 portraits based on society women, which she talks about below.

On why she chose to focus on society women for a portrait series:
I liked these older women trying to look good and dignified and over-the-top. Just the idea of these rich ladies who pose in ball gowns in their living rooms with their toddlers -- it just looks so ridiculous.

On how she got into character:
The mental state is more important because I really want a character to come through. I started to think about some of the characters -- how they're older women and if they are successful, maybe they're not really that happy. Maybe they've been divorced, or they're in an unhappy marriage, but because of the money, they're not going to get out [Laughs]. That's what I was thinking -- that there's something more below the surface that you can't really see.

Above: Cindy Sherman. Untitled #466. 2008. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. © 2011 Cindy Sherman

On the difficulty of photographing herself:
What gets harder is the goal of trying to seem somewhat different. And that was another reason why, when I was doing some of these characters, I wasn't that happy with them, because I thought they reminded me of other characters I've done. Or I saw too much of myself in some of them. To me, it's a little scary when I see myself. And it's especially scary when I see myself in these older [society] women. After the first six I thought, 'This is great, this is so easy -- I have a whole new category of women to explore.' It was kind of scary how easily I could make myself look so much older. But that was always the case in the work. Not about age, but I realized how easily I could look this way or that way, and it was kind of scary -- like your life could have been completely different if one little thing was different.

On accepting her work's popularity:
It bothered me how popular some of the series were, like the history portraits. It seemed so easy to do that series for some odd reason, and I felt guilty about that. But then I would go and make these more disturbing [works] -- sex picture stuff, rotting food stuff -- to feel like I could still go back to something that I do more for me, that I don't really care if people like or not. It's what I want to do. And then I can go back to the fun stuff when I use myself, because it is kind of fun, and I know that's what people always want. They're always looking for me in the photograph. And they're always a little disappointed if they find out that I'm not really in this one.

Photo of Cindy Sherman by Richard Burbridge.

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