Intimate Photos of Cindy Sherman Like You’ve Never Seen Her Before

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Contact Cindy Sherman Photography by Jeannette Montgomery
Contact – Cindy ShermanPhotography by Jeannette Montgomery Barron

“She seemed very comfortable being photographed by me. I hope she was,” says Jeannette Montgomery Barron, remembering his fateful encounter with the artist on Halloween 1985

On 31 October 1985, photographer Jeannette Montgomery Barron arrived at Cindy Sherman’s studio in downtown New York to photograph her as few had seen her before – as she was, unadorned. Gone were the wigs, the theatrical make-up, and the props that Sherman used to transform herself into a vast array of female personas brought to life in her art. In the course of an hour, Baron created 40 black and white portraits of the artist, now brought together in Cindy Sherman: Contact (NJG), a limited edition of 400 books and 20 portfolios out on 30 July.

Barron, who first took up photography at the age of nine, became hooked at 15 when her father taught her how to develop and print photographs in the darkroom. “I would say that experience changed my life,” Barron tells AnOther. In 1979, she moved from Atlanta to New York City to study at the International Center of Photography; then, in 1982, she embarked on a series of intimate portraits of artists, actors, and musicians who were defining the downtown scene.

From Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring, to Robert Mapplethorpe, Jenny Holzer and William S Burroughs, Barron crafted a quiet, meditative series of personalities that usually presented as larger than life – perhaps none so conscientiously as Cindy Sherman, who had achieved massive critical success early in her career with the 1977-1980 series Untitled Film Stills and the 1981 series Centerfolds/Horizontals.

“Cindy Sherman’s photographs are all about becoming another person,” Barron says. “And that’s why so many people moved to New York in the first place, me included.” Here, Barron shares her memories of their fateful encounter on Halloween ’85.

“My memory of the art world in the early 1980s was that it was very free and fun. I was young and pretty new to New York City. I remember listening to Blondie a lot. I was hanging out with my brother, Monty Montgomery, and Kathryn Bigelow who had just co-directed a movie called The Loveless. I had been the stills photographer on set and learned a lot from that.

“I started calling artists on the phone and asked if I could photograph them. Most of them said yes. It’s kind of crazy to think about now, isn’t it? It actually was my brother Monty’s idea, and I always like working in a series so it was perfect for me. But one thing I have to mention is that I was extremely shy growing up, so taking portraits was a huge challenge for me. I’ve found it very rewarding over the years even though I still get nervous for days before I take a portrait; the same thoughts go through my mind every time – I’m really going to mess it up this time, I’ve forgotten how to do this, etc. Luckily, that all goes away the minute I get behind the camera. I think the nervousness keeps me on my toes.

“In the fall of 1985 when I photographed Cindy Sherman, I had just turned 29 years old. I had seen an exhibition of hers at Metro Pictures and was very intrigued by her work. When I walked into Cindy’s studio downtown that day, I had no idea what to expect. My first impression of her was that she was shy, like me. Cindy was dressed in a simple shirt and pants, so I assumed that was how she wanted to be photographed. I never thought of asking her to wear anything else, that’s just not my style. 

I wasn’t there for more than an hour. Cindy was very laid back and quiet. She seemed very comfortable being photographed by me. I hope she was.“

Contact – Cindy Sherman by Jeannette Montgomery Barron, published by NJG Studio, is out now.