Cindy Sherman, Untitled Film Still #3, 1977. Gelatin silver print, 30 x 40 inches (76.2 x 101.6 cm). Promised gift of Marlene and David Persky. Courtesy the artist and Metro Pictures. © Cindy Sherman
Cindy Sherman is known for fusing performance and photography in identity-morphing “self-portraits” that explore female character types. Since her days as a student in Buffalo in the mid-1970s, Sherman has been taking photographs of herself in highly staged environments, transforming her appearance with costumes, makeup, and wigs. She began the series Untitled Film Stills in 1977 shortly after moving to New York City, and continued the series until 1980 when, as she says, she “ran out of clichés.” Totaling seventy black-and-white photographs, this series is Sherman’s seminal foray into her now-signature photographic practice: playing the roles of both actor and director, changing her persona with simple props and costumes.
The first six prints in the series were shot in Sherman’s New York apartment and reveal snippets of the domestic life of an imagined blonde movie star. Untitled Film Still #3 shows a woman wearing an apron standing over the kitchen sink, surrounded by ordinary housewares: a bottle of dish soap and drying rack, a spice jar on a shelf, and, in the foreground, an open container of salt and the handle of a stovetop pot. Captured while pausing during a domestic activity, the woman stares over her shoulder, her right hand wrapped around her stomach. Set in the banal environment of a cramped apartment kitchen, the scene assumes a tension as the figure’s gaze suggests an unseen force in an unknown narrative. The title’s reference to the movie industry lends a voyeuristic quality to this glimpse into the private life of a female character who has yet to discover herself.
Joining other photographs by Sherman in the ICA/Boston collection, Untitled Film Still #3 enhances the holdings of work by the most important contemporary photographers, including Philip-Lorca diCorcia, Rineke Dijkstra, and Nan Goldin, who also generate questions about the truth of the staged portrait.