The threshold of ambiguity in Cindy Sherman's Unititled film stills

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2011-12

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Abstract

Cindy Sherman’s photographic series, Untitled Film Stills, is an icon of postmodern art. The series is comprised of discrete single-frame narratives, which Sherman rendered in the visual vocabulary of mid-century cinematic publicity photography. One of the series’ most unifying features is its pervasive ambiguity, which Sherman has described as a conscious motivation behind the series. Despite the Stills’ continuous, international success, not every photograph in the series has merited uniform popularity, and some are largely absent from the greater circulation of popular and critical discourse. There is, in fact, significant variation in the circulation of individual Stills. I suggest that there is a spectrum of ambiguity in the photographs, and that this spectrum converges with the range of circulation. Within these spectra there are limits to the effectiveness of ambiguity. Therefore, the question that has governed my research is, “What is the threshold of ambiguity in Untitled Film Stills?”

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