Some go out of their way to prove they are independent entities capable of manipulating the image world. Photographs, and the language of the superficial, become their weapon against an era where the image is king. They utilise the language of images to project their own opinions, not merely to consume. The woman whose work characterises this approach is unequivocally Cindy Sherman.
Probably one of the most well known and influential post-modern photographers, Sherman’s work has paved the way for contemporary performance and photography based work. Look to any photographic essay that grapples with the post-modern or identity issues and you will probably see her photographs as prime illustrations.
The practice Sherman mostly utilises for her work involves her photographing herself in a variety of costumes. Each of these series plays with the concept of identity, in particular how it is presented by the media to the everyday viewer. Sherman takes the detritus of our consumer lifestyles, the remnants of our visual culture, to build her stereotypes. Her creative use of clothing, make up and props reveals the flimsy nature of perception, the constructions of popular culture. Her work reveals how these constructions can threaten to overwhelm our sense of self, how the projections of other people can begin to create an artificial world of stereotype.
Despite the serious themes of Sherman’s work it never feels overly critical, it feels mischievous, and like all the best mischief it reveals darker connotations from time to time. On a personal level however, I believe it can act as a reminder, that even though stereotypes and judgements will always exist, they are a language and like any other can be manipulated or mastered. Perhaps we should embrace the language of visual culture to send out our own messages, to take control of how other perceive us. Or even to simply sit back and observe what these external shifts in our appearance can make on our daily lives.
So I turn to you, the reader, to take control of your own projection. Let us be proactive in our visual language, learn to speak it and control it. To take part email pictures of the results of you ‘dressing up’ to: firstname.lastname@example.org with a small explanation of the resulting image. At worst we all add to mindless image detritus of the internet. But at least it will be fun. The best work will pop up in an article soon.
Go on, dress up, get out there and take control.
To see some of Shermans work (and some fantastic images from her early ‘Play of Selves’ series) at her representative gallery: Metro Pictures Gallery