Tag Archives: Lucy Hilmer

Portraits, Self-Portraits, Cindy Sherman & Aging (Part 2)

My last post was inspired by a recent New York Times article about Cindy Sherman’s  latest body of work. In it, she presents herself in the style of old Hollywood screen goddesses who are past their prime. Rather than looking sadly like they are trying to still look like their younger selves, the women that Sherman portrays have a certain dignity to them. They look like they are older. They look like they have lived a life.

Photograph by Cindy Sherman

Photograph by Cindy Sherman

Sherman states that this work, which came after a 5-year hiatus, was the result of she herself getting older and trying to come to terms with it. She says, “I, as an older woman, am struggling with the idea of being an older woman.” And apparently she is using this new series to try to figure it out.

Sherman is now 62, an age which for many is an in-between state — not quite still middle-aged, but not yet old-old. As author Gerald Marzaroti recently wrote of people that age: “You are milling in the anteroom of the aged.” The fact that Sherman is professing that this series of pictures is more autobiographically based than her prior work is really interesting to me, as is the fact that her age is a driving force in making it.

Numerous photographers have used aging as a foundation for their work- Anne Noggle  and Lucy Hilmer are two who leap immediately to mind—and I, too, find myself very consciously exploring it in my own work at the moment.

I have always been interested in the process and effects of aging. For the “Shadowing the Gene Pool” series, I photographed young children and very old adults, marveling in their similarities and differences. I did the same in the “Birth & Death” series. In my current work, I am looking at my own body, how I am aging, what I think about it, and how I see myself as I age, in addition to looking at how others age. While it is not the only issue that my new work tackles, it is a big part of it.

New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote a column back in March that speaks to how being older can enrich one’s work. Here is an excerpt:

“…(People are) less likely by middle age to be blinded by ego, more likely to know what it is they actually desire, more likely to get out of their own way, and maybe a little less likely…to care about what other people think.

…They achieve a kind of tranquility, not because they’ve decided to do nothing, but because they’ve achieved focus and purity of will. They have enough self-confidence, and impatience, to say no to some things so they can say yes to others.

From this perspective, middle age is kind of inspiring. Many of life’s possibilities are now closed, but limitation is often liberating. The remaining possibilities can be seized more bravely, and lived more deeply.”

Unpublished Bodies of Work

My last post mentioned the work of Lucy Hilmer, whose website shows examples of three bodies of work she made that were shot over long periods of time. Seeing her work has made me think a lot about the fact that I also have three long-term projects going that have never seen the light of day. They are:

1. My “birthday” series. Every year on my birthday I put my camera on a tripod and shoot either one roll of 36-exposure film or 36 digital images that show what I do that day from the moment I get up in the morning to the moment I go to bed that night.

2. My “post-partum” series. This series actually began while I was pregnant, when I photographed a nude self-portrait once a month for the duration of the pregnancy. I wanted to track what my body looked like as the months progressed. After giving birth, I was fascinated by the changes the pregnancy had wrought to my body, and wondered how it would age over time. So every year on the anniversary of the birth, I take a nude full-length self-portrait in front of a white backdrop: one from the front, one from the right side, one from the back, and one from the left side.

3. My “sister-in-law” series. This series started the year before my sister-in-law got pregnant. I took a shot of her in front of her house one summer. The next summer, she was nine months pregnant and I thought it would be interesting to pose her in the same spot. The next year, I thought it would be fun to pose her with her and her toddler. And all of a sudden, a series was born. All three of her children are now grown and out of the house, but every summer I am back there, posing her in front of her house, and thinking of how much time and history have passed since I started.

I haven’t exhibited any of those series- I am making them just because I want to make them- but enough time has gone by now that I going to start taking a more serious look at them, both as discreet bodies of work in and of themselves, but also in comparison to each other. It’s another way to discover what I have been thinking and saying as an artist over long periods of time.