Cindy Sherman’s work relies on the viewer’s memories and life experiences, rather than revealing anything about herself. In her work Centerfolds she poses herself in stances rather evocative of Playboy magazine centrefolds in such a way that the viewer is gazing down at her from a position of power. Her characters, unlike those in Playboy, are all fully clothed and there is a common element of vulnerability running through this series. Her gaze does not meet that of the viewer, but is staring up or far off into the distance.
As David Bate states in his chapter Voyeurism and Portraiture if we extend the meaning of voyeurism past its common perverted meaning that we are all so familiar with, we move into the psychoanalytic framework, where voyeurism is one of two poles … of scopophilia. Scopophilia here simply means ‘visual pleasure’ and voyeurism refers to the ‘active’ pleasure which is derived from looking at someone or thing. This in turn “provides a visual satisfaction in the fantasy of identification”.
With the Playboy reference in mind, Sherman is enticing her viewers to engage in voyeurism. Each character seems to have her own story to tell. Some look afraid, some shy, others are tense looking as if they are waiting for something to happen. However Sherman herself has commented on “one of her Centerfold pictures which she refers to as “Black Sheets.” The artist explains that when she looks at that character she sees her as a young woman who is severely hung over and is just getting to bed after being out on the town all night, but that other people think of her as a rape victim” (Kendrick, 2012: 8). Her interview can be seen on Art 21’s website.
In all her work she is both the artist and the subject. She intentionally leaves her work untitled so that the viewers are free to interpret the work in their own way.
Bate, D. (n.d.) Voyeurism and Portraiture [online] Academia.edu. Available at: https://www.academia.edu/4600307/Voyeurism_and_Portraiture [Accessed 29 November, 2016]
Kendrick, C. (2012) When a “feminist” artist is not a feminist: Challenging Cindy Sherman’s constructed position in discourse [online] Academia.edu. Available at: https://www.academia.edu/1570280/When_a_feminist_artist_is_not_a_feminist_Challenging_Cindy_Shermans_Constructed_Position_in_Discourse [Accessed 29 November, 2016]
Transformation [webcast, online]. http://www.pbs.org/video/1281770054/ (accessed 05/12/2016)Art 21. 54 mins 30 secs. 21/10/2009. Available at: