Other People’s Photographs: Cindy Sherman’s Found Albums and Scrapbooks

Cindy Sherman collects. She trawls flea markets, thrift stores, and fashion houses for the clothes, wigs, and accessories used in her performances to camera. These performances inhabit character types themselves derived from movies and television, art, and fashion. She also collects other people’s photographs.

This exhibition draws from Sherman’s collection of found photographs, scrapbooks and albums. It includes over 200 photographs from inside Casa Susanna, a 1960s New York retreat for male-to-female cross-dressers run by Susanna (Tito Valenti) and her wife Marie—a master wig maker. Casa Susanna was a safe space where guests could freely express what Susanna termed ‘the girl-within’. Sherman found these photographs in an album at an antique fair in New York City in the early 2000s.

The other albums and scrapbooks are equally rich in historical content. ‘Bobby and Cindi’ was Sherman’s first found scrapbook. It previously belonged to star-crossed lovers, whose identities are known only through the names scrawled across its pages. There is an album dedicated to 1930s actor Charles McClelland, whose IMDB profile suggests a career limited to generic roles such as ‘Detective’, ‘Cop’ and ‘Brakeman’. Other albums document an American GI’s travels through the Pacific, a romantic retreat to Denver, a circus troupe and the construction of a Massachusetts highway.

These photographs have value on their own terms as documents of mid-to-late twentieth century American life. But, here, we see them through Sherman’s work and Sherman’s work through them. Their proximity to Sherman’s work reveals the nature of her interaction with cultural and historical sources. We can sense the ways she amasses, mines and reimagines images, identities and mythologies from a variety of sources.

City Gallery Wellington, 19 November 2016–12 March 2017

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