Cindy Sherman Untitled Film Still #48, 1979

gelatin silver print 18.9cm x 24cm

This is a photograph by Cindy Sherman, part of a series called Untitled Film Stills. In these, Sherman role-plays as stereotypical female characters to recreate “iconic snapshots” which aim to show that show that “self identity is often an unstable compromise between social dictates and personal intention”.

The photograph is shot from behind Sherman’s character by the side of a stretch of road which disappears left, around a bend. There are no vehicles to be seen. To the left of the image, the road is bordered by a steep hill with trees. On the horizon we see yet more hills, trees and what appears to be a river which parallels the road almost back to the solitary figure. Apart from the road, the landscape is entirely natural and free from manufactured items. Everything works to evoke a powerful sense of, somewhat eerie, isolation.

Sherman’s character looks like a stereotypical housewife of the 1950s. She is well-dressed with a relaxed and casual air, but this is contrasted with the feelings of isolation and dependency that this image offers. She is dependent on someone with a car to pick her up and must wait for this person entirely alone. I feel this image represents the negative aspects of being female in a patriarchal society. There is a need, often felt by women, to have a beautiful and manicured image while being totally dependent on men. Many people will see a woman who appears to be fine on the outside, and yet they don’t see the internal pressures that she has to deal with.

While my reading of this image is through a feminist lens, I believe that it could also be interpreted in the broader sense that most people only ever see others as they are on the outside while never seeing the occulted issues that they may have.

The author Brad Meltzer once said, “Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.” Linking this back to Sherman’s words, our appearance to others is a compromise between the things that society expects from us, what we are, and what we wish to accomplish in our lives.