Welcome back to BOMB in the Building, where each week we’re featuring a vintage BOMB interview relating to a Season 5 artist. Inspired by Cindy Sherman’s “Transformations,” this week we head back 24 years for a seminal interview with the photographer, conducted by BOMB’s own editor in chief, Betsy Sussler. “Sherman’s earliest photographic work displayed her posed tauntingly in sets. Mimicry, mostly of ‘50s and ‘60s film, they anticipated a voyeuristic response,” Sussler wrote in BOMB Issue 12, Spring 1985. “It was not only Sherman emoting but Sherman becoming different personalities.” Read the full interview here.
Betsy Sussler: When did you decide to be an actress in your photographs? Do you consider it acting?
Cindy Sherman: I never thought I was acting. When I became involved with close-ups I needed more information in the expression. I couldn’t depend on background or atmosphere. I wanted the story to come from the face. Somehow the acting just happened.
Betsy Sussler: Now when you’re doing it, what are you thinking?
Cindy Sherman: I think of becoming a different person. I look into a mirror next to the camera…it’s trance-like. By staring into it I try to become that character through the lens. It seems to work out, it sounds like meditation. But something happens that makes it more fun for me because I have no control over it. Something else takes over.
Betsy Sussler: How do you decide on the character, or does it matter?
Cindy Sherman: Well, the characters sometimes appear while I set up the lighting. I may go through several different lighting situations until I feel some kind of mood or response to it.
Betsy Sussler: The mood of the light?
Cindy Sherman: And sometimes it’s just experimental. I may look at what I’ve been doing and realize I haven’t used a harsh yellow light so I’ll try that. Then sometimes, arbitrarily pick out a wig I haven’t used in a while.
Betsy Sussler: So you choose colors and that suggests atmosphere and then you choose costumes. Is that arbitrary too? I mean you just go around and collect things and make them?
Cindy Sherman: Sort of. Lately it’s been these fashions that I was commissioned to use.
Betsy Sussler: Those are very interesting photographs. Like the ones you did for Dianne B. where you’ve got your legs up and it looks like you’re masturbating and you’re laughing hysterically. That’s my absolute favorite, the one in red.
Cindy Sherman: Well, a lot of that came out of a response to the clothes. I felt forced to use these clothes. I didn’t have a choice.
Betsy Sussler: Were you embarrassed by them? Exposed or…
Cindy Sherman: The clothing, you mean? No, it was just that some of them were so weird. Some of Dianne B.’s stuff was really bizarre; Issey Miyake straw coats with poles that stuck up from the shoulders. The Comme Des Garcons stuff was like expensive bag-lady clothing…I was real interested in what the clothing was bringing out of me and some of it was a retaliation against fashion, as well as humor. But to see in magazines what they do with those kinds of clothes—they have this beautiful, skinny model in some tattered-up dress that costs a thousand dollars. I’m not doing anything else for fashion right now, so I’ll just use whatever is in my closet.
Betsy Sussler: Those everyday clothes were very psychological, but you got back into the props and the costumes after that in a more extravagant way, which gave you more freedom, more range with the acting.
Cindy Sherman: Yeah.
Betsy Sussler: I don’t know what you call it if you don’t call it acting.
Cindy Sherman: I suppose it is. I’ve never had any exposure to traditional acting so it just never occurred to me. Since the day-to-day costumes I’ve really only done fashion and that’s part of the problem right now. I haven’t really worked just for myself in the last two years.
Betsy Sussler: It’s interesting that you have a mirror set up so you can see yourself. You do pick and choose. It’s not technical considerations that inform your editing. Besides, letting yourself go and becoming, do you have some idea of what you want to become?
Cindy Sherman: I recognize it when I see something I don’t recognize. I’ll do test pictures, maybe a whole roll of film that all looks familiar. Like the same character from another picture or too much like me. When I see what I want, my intuition takes over—both in the “acting” and in the editing. Seeing that other person that’s up there, that’s what I want. It’s like magic.
Read the full interview in BOMB Magazine here.