Cindy Sherman’s Intimate Portraits as Hollywood Grande Dames Examine Aged Femininity

From 1977 to 1980, photographer Cindy Sherman’s Untitled Film Stills series, 69 black-and-white images of the artist cast as actresses in stereotypical feminine roles from B movies and ‘50s/‘60s art-house cinema, revealed just how cliché representations of women were and how deeply they were embedded in our public consciousness. Now in her 60s, Sherman returns with her first new work in five years, exhibited at New York City’s Metro Pictures from May 5 to June 11.

Mirroring the earlier film stills, the new photos examine women and aging, with Sherman dressed as a cast of Golden Age of Hollywood stars, channeling Gloria Swanson, Greta Garbo, and other icons after 40. “I relate so much to these women,” she told the New York Times. “They look like they’ve been through a lot, and they’re survivors. And you can see some of the pain in there, but they’re looking forward and moving on.”

In the interview, Sherman expresses an interest in “playing with moving images,” although she’s not sure if that means a return to film. She wrote and directed the 1997 satirical horror movie Office Killer, starring a deranged Carol Kane. Sherman’s new photos feel less Grand Guignol, color portraits with manipulated digital backgrounds — a nod to the Instagram era, while also alluding to old film sets and artificial backdrops in vintage publicity stills. They’re printed directly onto metal.

Sherman’s connection to these women-of-a-certain-age, as a woman who is “struggling with the idea of being an older woman,” are intimate and without “irony, or caricature, or cartooniness.” With headlines like “What happened to Kim Novak’s face?” and “Bonnie And Clyde‘s Faye Dunaway, 75, looks unrecognisable from her screen siren days,” Sherman’s evolving insights to the feminine identity are as vital as ever.