Cindy Sherman’s “Untitled #96″ is frightening or thought provoking?

Untitled #96. 1981. Colour photograph, 24”x 48”, The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Digital Image. Copyright by MoMA.

Cindy Sherman“A photograph should transcend itself, the image its medium, in order to have its own presence” (Sherman, Statement 926).

Cindy Sherman (American, b. 1954) is widely recognized as one of the most important and influential artists in contemporary art. Recently I have across one of Cindy’s photo named Untitled #96. This image listed in a series of centrefolds.  She became one of the most expensive living women artists to date when her “Untitled #96″ sold in May 2011 for $3.9 million at Christie’s New York.

It was astonishing news. I was starting to think of this photo. What makes this image so outstanding or different from various kind of works? We are living in a digital imagery world where every day tons of images added into our visual culture. Every refresh of Instagram feed we can see new pictures.

Emerging of selling digital cameras and producing a large number of photos, our visual world being overcrowded in my view. With all the facts about how this image hit this amount of price, this was my primary question.

So, my reading and searching about Sherman began.  The fact firstly attracted me that Cindy’s image is something off-grid, different and kinda disturbing for their morbid and vivid presentation. In her “Untitled Film Stills” series she tells us a story of an unseen world that never took surface above this male dominant society.

When I looked into her works, I can sense one thing, she tried to oppose our regular expectation from a female bodywork. Her photographs throwing question about how we represent a woman in our works. In candy’s works, you can see in the normal perception, the woman always living a life with an open, and revealing body, rendering her vulnerable and helpless.

But, for me, her images serve as a stong bummer that forces the viewer to wonder about the thoughts of woman out of helplessness and sexual objectification. When I was seeing some photos alongside the “Untitled #96″ from the series Centerfolds, I experience mostly the “isolated women… in private settings, [and] we inadvertently take on the role of voyeur” (Knafo 147).

In the photo, Sherman’s body was spread out onto the tiled floor. She was dressed as an adolescent girl.  A piece of paper clutched in her hand and the other hand placed beside her head. She stated as vulnerable. Her body stretched across the image. At first look, you may find something sexually appealing. But, I found a calm and subtle essence of life.

Maximum signature photographs of Sherman shows the sexual nature of a woman body, nearly naked, an appealing presentation with the help of vivid makeups and props. When I was to take a closer look at this photo subject’s red-painted nails and the slight up of her skirt, I don’t feel any desire.

Some may say, by this photo, Sherman was presented woman in front of consumer’s gaze. In my point of view, the nail polishes, skirt, canvas shoe; these details speak fro her feminity or only human being, rather than a sexual object. Sherman may try to demonstrate the different ways to interpret femininity.

I realize that rightful understanding of a renowned photograph of the vastly celebrated postmodernist artist and a photographer like Sherman is not the cup of mine. I was just expressing my thoughts. This expensive photo was not frightening for me. It was a thought-provoking poke.

Its like, Is this a feminist representation of women? Or, this can be a pop-cultural stunt of consumerism where subjects are trying to sell the interpretation of something? I go with an idea. It is a simple snap about portrayals of women from female eyes. In general, we see a woman from male ways of seeing.

“Untitled #96″ was picturing a moment for me, while a woman opens up her mystery or unseen characteristics for her own.  In that particular time, the women in the photograph were giving a permit to me or spectators to enter her hidden territory of own world that would have remained inaccessible & restricted for everyone else. Sherman’s gaze indicating us about a complex young woman who was not lived in the frame in a very moment.

According to Knafo, “The culture’s stunning superficiality is reflected back to us and the question as to whether the artist will quest for an inner, psychological identity is still open” (Knafo 147).

My thoughts about the photograph of “Untitled #96″ is getting more relatable by remembering the quote of Sherman I wrote at starting. “A photograph should transcend itself, the image its medium, in order to have its own presence” (Sherman, Statement 926).

The “Untitled #96″ was resonating dynamic interpretations for different audiences in different types of socio-cultural context. The image of Sherman is living a long life & itself transcending to never-ending tells. It is creating a mystical uncertainty that forcing its viewers to rethink and explore the question, What is this photograph tells?



Sherman, Cindy. “Statement.” Stiles, Kristine and Peter Selz. Theories and Documents of Contemporary Art: A Sourcebook of Artists’ Writings. 2nd Edition. University of California Press, 2012. 926.

Knafo, Danielle. “Cindy Sherman: Dressing Up and Make-Believe.” Knafo, Danielle. In Her Own Image: Women’s Self-Representation in Twentieth-Century Art. Cranbury: Rosemont Publishing & Printing Corp., 2009. 144-156.


Featured image of this post is Untitled #96. 1981. Colour photograph, 24”x 48”, The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Digital Image. Copyright by MoMA.

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