Part 5 Constructed realities and the fabricated image, Project 1: Setting the scene


Figure 1, Cindy Sherman taken from Centrefolds (1981)

Similar to film or theatre the tableau or staged photograph, “relies heavily upon a narrative for it’s reading….and…. it has become most synonymous with contemporary art photography.” Bright, S (2011:77).

There are a number of highly influential artists in this field dating from the post-modernism period such as Cindy Sherman, Jeff Wall, Philip-Lorca DiCorcia through to more contemporary artists such as Hannah Starkey, Sarah Jones, Taryn Simon plus many more. What is common to all is a tension between what is real and what is constructed and whilst scales of production and complexity can vary enormously, what is irrefutable is that the role of the artist is central to creating a representation of a reality inviting critical interpretation in much the same way that classical art paintings operate. (Bright, S. 2011:78).


Figure 2, Cindy Sherman Untitled taken from Film Still (1978)

Cindy Sherman

Has responded to the influences of film and mass media through her highly influential works questioning and subverting female roles and the construction of stereotypes.

Born in 1954 in New Jersey, she originally studied art but after a few years as a painter decided that photography was the medium to best explore the society of popular mass culture. Sherman works completely on her own and appears in her own visual scenes where she plays fictional characters that she has drawn from the archives of our collective sub-conscious.

Brought up in the golden age of American TV and film Sherman began shooting her first major work ‘Untitled Film Stills’ in the 1970s. The images appear as stills taken from films (industry) that shaped popular culture in the 20th century, and although they are all original scenes they create a sense of familiarity as they resonate with the images, which had become ubiquitous in our everyday lives through the constant feed from the mass media.
Eva Respini describes her work as a “revealing and critiquing the artifice of identity and how photography is complicit in it’s making….she addresses the anxieties of the status of the self with pictures that are frighteningly on point and direct in their appraisal of the current culture of the cultivated self ” (Respini, 2012:P13)

Jeff Wall

Rejects the notion that he is always in total control of his artistic or creative process. He proposes that his work is often a combination of random thoughts or experiences which are available to everybody and he uses the example of his image Boy falls from tree (2010) to illustrate this idea. To find out more follow the video link below of an interview where the artist discusses his work. Jeff Wall: Tableaux Pictures Photographs 1996-2013.


Figure 3, Gregory Crewdson taken from Twilight series (1998-2002)

Gregory Crewdon

Is famous for large-scale cinematic productions that explore a darker side of the vernacular of American life. The artist’s planning and attention to detail are admirable and certainly set him aside in his field. His intention is to create a frame of beauty that is infused with a psychological tension that I think he clearly achieves with his extensive use of props, colours and lighting arrangements.

Untitled - March 1999 1999 by Hannah Starkey born 1971

Figure 4, Hannah Starkey Untitled (1999)

Hannah Starkey

Is an artist who initially developed through creating stage compositions mainly of young women positioned within the urban spaces created by Capitalism. I find her work more accessible than the likes of Jeff Wall and Gregory Crewdson and connected more with people even if it what is depicted is ironically a process of dehumanisation.


Figure 5, Philip-Lorca DiCorcia Eddie Anderson, 21 years old, Houston, Texas, $20 (1989)

Philip-Lorca DiCorica

I found Philip-Lorca DiCorcia series Hustlers really interesting in how it combines the candid moment of real life with the sense of artificiality of a staged event. The subjects of the portraits were male prostitutes hired by the artist in Hollywood, LA. Instead of receiving their sexual services DiCorcia took their photograph. The titles of these images include: the name of model, age, location and amount of money that they were initially looking for in order to sell themselves. I like that by creating these titles the artist seems to imply that we are all to a point complicit in this relationship.

Final thoughts

From a purely aesthetic point of view I certainly feel very comfortable and grounded in the subject matter covered by artists that sit within this particular genre of photography. Having grown up during the 1970s and 1980s on a diet of TV, magazines and film I like many others see this sort of imagery produced as a very natural form and I am drawn to it’s familiarity.

Within this however what I have begun to learn about myself through this C & N course is that the image or work must have some meaningful purpose. For this reason I feel more drawn to work by the likes of Cindy Sherman than say that Gregory Crewdson as I believe that the work matters more. Whilst Crewdson’s work is certainly aesthetically successful what would actually happen if he didn’t produce anymore work? I think the world just goes on, whereas Cindy Sherman’s contribution around roles and identity have definitely made a difference in people’s attitudes and ways of thinking and whilst her work is focussed towards the female gender her concepts have also influenced the thinking around male gender and stereotypes in general.

“We’re all products of what we want to project to the world. Even people who don’t spend any time, or think they don’t, on preparing themselves for the world out there – I think that ultimately they have for their whole lives groomed themselves to be a certain way, to present a face to the world.” Cindy Sherman


Bright, S. Art Photography Now 2011 London: Thames and Hudson

Cotton, C. The Photograph as Contemporary Art 3rd ed. (2014)

London: Thames and Hudson

Cindy Sherman, curator E. Respini, exhibition MoMA. (2012) NY.

Starkey, Hannah. Photographs 1997-2007 Germany: Stiedl.


Figure 1, Cindy Sherman taken from Centrefolds (1981)

Figure 2, Cindy Sherman Untitled taken from Film Still (1978)

Figure 3, Gregory Crewdson taken from Twilight series (1998-2002)

Figure 4, Hannah Starkey Untitled (1999)

Figure 5, Philip-Lorca DiCorcia Eddie Anderson, 21 years old, Houston, Texas, $20 (1989)

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