Untitled Film Still #6
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Sherman began dealing in pop cultural feminine clichés with this series, which she worked on for three years.

View this image alone, and you see a boudoir vixen flirting with the camera. View it with its sixty-eight sister photographs, and you’ll see the same woman posing over and over again, each time portraying a different Hollywood stereotype of what it means to be female.

The original inspiration for the series came during Sherman’s first year living in New York as a fresh college graduate. Artist friend David Salle had a job doing layout at a softcore porno magazine, and the seedy pin-up photos inspired Sherman to explore the stories that are projected onto images of women in media.

There’s something decidedly voyeuristic about the series as a whole (especially the bits featuring ladies in their undergarments). But Sherman has noted that at the time, she actually wasn’t making a statement about the male gaze--in fact, she was basically oblivious to the concept. By borrowing images that loosely represent familiar stars and film genres, she was playing with the history of women’s fashion and the contradictions of naturalness and dressing-up, just as much as she was exposing shallow cultural tropes.

Look closely at Sherman’s left hand, and you can see that she’s holding the button of her camera’s shutter release cable. Even today, Sherman prefers to work alone in her studio. She handles her own shooting and costumes, and her early methodology was no different. The visible cable peeking out from her right side is another detail that might have slipped under your radar.

Starving artists take note: even though Sherman is now in the major leagues, she was once a cash-strapped young pipsqueak. The first six stills in this series were shot on a single roll of film for lack of funds. And they still turned out good enough for MoMA.