Famed for her photographic ‘portraits’, Cindy Sherman stages, shoots and crops her work with meticulous attention to detail. So well-fabricated are her personae that the seal between the artist’s identity and those of her characters appears watertight. There is, therefore, something almost voyeuristic about looking at Sherman’s studio, where she works in solitude.
Paul Moorhouse, curator of a major new Sherman retrospective at London’s National Portrait Gallery and author of the accompanying catalogue, described the moment he decided to include images of the artist’s studio in the exhibition: ‘Looking around, I could see the evidence of her creative process […] Cindy’s studio and its contents were the perfect way of evoking the imaginative world that she inhabits.’
From this idea came a series of photographs by Genevieve Hanson, published by the National Portrait Gallery in Moorhouse’s Cindy Sherman (2019), which gives a glimpse of the artist’s process before the final zipper is zipped, the wig straightened and the eyebrow arch perfected.
Hanson’s studio portraits contain intriguing hints at Sherman’s influences. In one image, on a wall plastered with cut-outs of silver-screen sirens, is the front page of a 2004 allure magazine. The cover girl is a smiling, bronzed Jennifer Aniston – her hair set just so, rocking the smoky eye. There’s something strange about the image: her teeth are too white, her skin too smooth. As with many of Sherman’s photographs, an uncanny crack forms between appearance and reality.
Moorhouse explains how a portrait such as this seeps into Sherman’s approach: ‘An image found in a magazine or an idea jotted in her journal may be a seed for future development. Experimenting with cosmetics, clothing, prosthetics, lighting and photographs of various locations feeds the formation of an imaginary character. Eventually, Cindy confronts a stranger in her mirror, an alter-ego that is in no way “her”, but rather an invented individual formed from the construction of an appearance. Working unobserved, she then photographs herself while in the role she has created.’