Sally Mann, Untitled (Self-Portrait), 2006-12.
Cindy Sherman, Untitled #405, 2000.
In some form or another, when a photograph captures an individual’s image, a commentary on the person’s identity is made, intentionally or not. The signs given by the environment and elements surrounding the subject play a huge role and can massively dictate how one understands the scene depicted. Two photographers have used this to their advantage and at the same time pushed the boundaries of documentary photography: Sally Mann and Cindy Sherman. Excitingly, two exhibitions of their works are crossing over one another this month: Mann’s pictures will be shown in New York, and Sherman’s ones in San Francisco.
Both photographers examine human nature, producing at the same time very different images. Their intimate and sometimes uncomfortable ways to explore people’s identity have made their images iconic. While Sherman has used herself as a canvas to depict scenarios, Mann has famously used her young family to create controversy. She has indeed particularly challenged the notion of ‘acceptable’ in photography by publishing nude images of her own children. On the other hand, Sherman has focused on questioning the interpretation of women stereotypes as she embodies cinematic scenarios.
Sally Mann, unable at some point to take her camera on locations due to an accident, turned it onto herself and produced hundreds of prints of her face and damaged torso. The resulting work, currently shown at the Edwynn Houk Gallery, is raw and honest. Although very different from her previous images, these photographs still highlight the underlying link of “fertility, family and hereditary, recorded in the human form and in the land”* found within all of her work.
At the same time, the SFMOMA exhibition showcases a variety of Cindy Sherman’s work, including her famous Untitled Film Stills series. Her consistent embodiment of female characters and expertly constructed scenes are left open for the viewer to build a story. Ambiguity, on which she always plays, has a key role, as Marcus Crowder** explains: “all of Sherman’s pieces are untitled, so the artist both allows and forces the viewers to engage [in] the images unencumbered with pre-judgment or artificial direction”.
Will the artists’ provoking explorations of identity lead to a questioning of the audience’s own one? What will you discover about yourself while you’re staring at these strong, striking photographs? If you’re going to be in New York and/or San Francisco in the imminent future, we definitely recommend not to miss these great exhibitions!
‘Cindy Sherman’, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, until 8th October 2012.
‘Sally Mann, Upon Reflection’, Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York, until 3rd November 2012.
*Quote from the Edwynn Houk Gallery.
**Marcus Crowder is a journalist & critic at The Sacramento Bee.