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The Photographs “Untitled Film Stills” by Sherman and “Early Colors Interiors” by Simmons

Untitled Film Stills by Cindy Sherman and Early Colors Interiors series by Laurie Simmons belong to the second wave of feminist art of the 70-80s, representing the so-called deconstructionist approach. They both abandoned the essentialist concept of the first wave, contributing to establishing a new feminine aesthetic that questioned gender stereotypes, roles, and standard construction of female identity. Both artists did not label their works as feminist; however, its content reflected criticism of typical social expectations about roles women should play. What is more important, these images criticized the way society establishes such expectations. They primarily blame the media of the 1950s and 60s for propelling sexist stereotypes (“Cindy Sherman’s Untitled Film Stills”). During this period, advertisements printed in popular magazines such as LIFE portrayed women stereotypically dressed and doing housekeeping in the living room or kitchen. A similar situation could be seen in the film industry, where actresses predominantly played a typical woman with an ordinary occupation.

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“Purple Woman/Kitchen/Second View,” by Simmons, seems to bridge the first and second waves of feminism in art. It depicts the domestic scene of the kitchen and homemaker standing next to the desk full of kitchen utensils and food. The picture is close-cropped, colored, and saturated, resembling typical eye-catching advertisements of that time. Simmons uses a doll and small artificial props to arrange a room that looks like a real kitchen. Nevertheless, she intentionally made mistakes in craftsmanship and scale: the wall is a little bit warped, the chairs stand on cardboard, the floor has splotches on it, and even the homemaker’s dress is not perfect (Heti). She stands firmly in the center of the composition in contrast to ads where women were always happy.

The utensils and food are also deliberately put in a chaotic manner around the kitchen to oppose the impeccable compositions used by advertisers. All those small details insinuate and humiliate the manufactured and artificial nature of the photographs popular at that time. In other words, it criticizes the fabrication of female identity that, in reality, was something more (Heti). Regarding medium, Simmons printed small-sized colored photographs using silver dye bleach print. This decision contrasted with predominantly black-and-white fine art photography of that time. It made her series more revolutionary and unique compared to others.

On the contrary, “Untitled Film Still #10″ is a black-and-white photograph printed in moderate size without a title. Indeed, Cindy Sherman decided to replicate the popular medium at that time to create her film stills. The last images of the series were done in the shape of a movie screen (horizontal) to replicate the film format and increase similarity. This particular image depicts a working girl caught by somebody when trying to pick up groceries from the kitchen floor she might drop a while ago. She may be in a hurry to cook a delicious supper for her husband, or she is a lonely actress who does not earn enough money to live a luxurious life. Interestingly, the artist does not want to convey the story; instead, she frees the room for viewers’ imagination.

In the Untitled Film Stills series, Sherman poses in various cliché feminine types one might spot in Hollywood and European films of the 1950s and 1960s. The list of stereotypical female roles embedded in the cultural imagination includes: bombshell, office girl, housewife, and girl on the run (“Cindy Sherman’s Untitled Film Stills”). The images hint that femininity requires no more than the right dress, good pout, and maquillage. The artist points out that woman can be different despite traditionally prescribed roles by transiently becoming herself all these women.

She redefined the meaning of makeup in her works revealing that females tend to use it to show who they are rather than just to be beautiful or attract males. For that reason, some of her characters represented in the series wear too much makeup (“Subverting the Male Gaze”). Sherman explains, “The clothes make them seem a certain way, but then, you look at their expression, however slight it may be, and wonder if maybe ‘they’ are not what the clothes are communicating” (“Cindy Sherman’s Untitled Film Stills”). Indeed, all the characters were struggling with something, questioning their life, maybe because they were forced to follow their socially constructed roles. Moreover, they do not look at the camera; their gaze is focused on objects or individuals outside the frame. It was done intentionally to contrast with the same roles depicted in films where women are acting and not being lifelike.

To conclude, both artists belong to the second wave of feminist art that condemned the stereotypical depiction of women and their objectification in mass media. Simmons and Sherman intended to embrace the popular styles of photography and female roles used in the film industry and marketing. Both artists revised and redefined it, adding essential elements that shaped meaning and message. Although they copied the popular art styles to some extent, Simmons and Sherman shifted away from traditional female aesthetics. The latter portrayed women as balanced with nature and domesticity and accepted biological differences between males and females. Simmons turned to a more unique medium at that time, whereas Sherman’s series seems to resemble more freedom and possibility for change.

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References

“Cindy Sherman’s Untitled Film Stills – Her Groundbreaking Self Portraits.” Public Delivery, 2021. Web.

“Subverting the Male Gaze: Femininity as Masquerade in “Untitled Film Stills 1977-1980″ by Cindy Sherman.” CuratingtheContemporary, 2014. Web.

Heti, Sheila. “Laurie Simmons.” Interview Magazine, 2014. Web.

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StudyCorgi. "The Photographs “Untitled Film Stills” by Sherman and “Early Colors Interiors” by Simmons." December 15, 2022. https://studycorgi.com/the-photographs-untitled-film-stills-by-sherman-and-early-colors-interiors-by-simmons/.

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StudyCorgi. 2022. "The Photographs “Untitled Film Stills” by Sherman and “Early Colors Interiors” by Simmons." December 15, 2022. https://studycorgi.com/the-photographs-untitled-film-stills-by-sherman-and-early-colors-interiors-by-simmons/.

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StudyCorgi. (2022) 'The Photographs “Untitled Film Stills” by Sherman and “Early Colors Interiors” by Simmons'. 15 December.

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