Untitled Film Stills

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In Cindy Sherman’s groundbreaking photo series “Untitled Film Stills” (1977–80), the photographer casts herself as various heroines, masquerading as characters lifted from film archetypes and female stereotypes. Through theatrical costumes, set designs, makeup, and wigs, Sherman transforms into housewives, coquettes, schoolgirls, vamps, damsels in distress, and bombshells. Shot in dramatic, cinematic angles that reference film noir, the 70 black-and-white photographs in “Untitled Film Stills” challenge the portrayal of women in the media. “The characters weren’t dummies; they weren’t just airhead actresses,” said Sherman. “They were women struggling with something.” Sherman’s photographs are intentionally ambiguous—the women are suspended between action, allowing the viewer to imagine what happened before and after the “still” was captured. Long before Photoshop and Instagram filters, the series is also notable for showcasing the artist shapeshifting between identities, presaging the …

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