In an Unseen New Image of Aging, Cindy Sherman Returns To Her Teenage Self

THE DAILY PIC: At 62, her first work in five years looks at older women.


THE DAILY PIC (#1535): Today’s Pic is from a series of new works that Cindy Sherman came up with this winter, after a five-year break from photographing herself – the longest pause in a career that turned 40 this year. The photo has never been made public before, not even in the feature I wrote on Sherman for yesterday’s New York Times. The new images, which premiere on May 5 at Metro Pictures gallery in New York, portray Sherman as a series of Golden Age Hollywood stars, still wearing their Jazz Age outfits even though they are as old as they might have been in the 1960s – and as Sherman herself is today.

Commenting on my Times piece, the artist and writer Steel Stillman noticed something I hadn’t. I’d mentioned that these new images might be seen as aged versions of the younger starlets that Sherman had posed as in her great Untitled Film Stills of the late 1970s, and as Stillman put it, “it is weird how her women have aged by going backward in time.”

One pop-psych explanation might be that in order for Sherman to accept these figures as stand-ins for her own aging self, they also needed to be distanced enough to pose less of a threat; aging gets declawed, that is, by making it a thing of the past. Another reading might say that, for whatever reason, the Grandes Dames of the Silent Screen represent an apogee of potent womanhood in the modern age – maybe because they are the first images of women that are definitively and exclusively modern. If those icons can be shown growing old graciously, then there’s hope for all women to do the same.

But maybe there’s a simpler, more “ecological” reason for Sherman’s choice of these women as her avatars, and of herself as theirs. I think we all fashion our basic worldview sometime in our mid-teens: Several of my older sisters fixed their notions of male beauty in the years around 1970, which means that to this day they like men with hippy locks. (Their comments on Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn made me blush.) In my own teen years, I imprinted on New Wave tomboys – and luckily for me my wife fits that bill, even 35 years later.

I have a feeling that Sherman, who would have been 15 in 1969, formed a notion, accurate for her at the time, that older women were creatures of the 1920s, with the most elegant among them having been movie stars. For that same teenage Sherman, aspiring “starlets” in their mid-20s were creatures of the late 1950s and early 1960s – and sure enough, that’s the era she chooses to depict them in, a decade later when she becomes an artist and makes her Film Stills.

It is now 2016, but when it came time to represent age in her latest photos, Sherman worked with an image that her mind built for her 50 years ago.

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