Cindy Sherman explores explicit interior emotion in her Centerfolds series. Acting as the subject of all 12 works, she strikes offhandedly-intimate poses that reveal simultaneous eroticism and distress. This wide shot - portraying a young woman crouching in a ball and staring forward, glowing an eerie red against a stark black background - is arguably the most arresting of the series.
Sherman achieves the series' striking artistry and emotional poignancy through her unique ability to create a seamless whole. She acts as a one-woman studio - as director, actor, photographer, costumer, set designer, lighting specialist, and make-up artist - expertly executing every portion of her creative concept. Each part works in unison and perfectly compliments the others, creating a product that embodies her creative program without sacrificing any other aspects.
Sherman attempted to create an art form accessible to the masses in the Centerfolds series. To achieve this, she drew from omnipresent commercial, popular media such as film, television, and magazines. In doing so, she also allows herself to criticize pop culture and media-specific associations. For this series she drew directly from the trademark double-wide pornographic images from adult magazines such as Playboy.
These works reference adult magazine photography with their saturated color, one to two height to width ratio, and supernatural contrast. Beyond these formal qualities, the subjects also trade on this genre's archetypes: young, female, clothed incompletely or suggestively, and sprawled or otherwise erotically posed. Their expressions are disengaged and unaware of the undoubtedly conspicuous nearby camera, much like those of Playboy centerfolds.
Nevertheless, these surface details represent the only similarities. While adult models' raw, defenseless visages appear blank, Sherman's Centerfolds are clearly in consumed self-absorption. These women are not made-up for a proper photo shoot. Their unkempt hair and clothes suggest that they just emerged from an ordeal, not a dressing room. Their visages all appear glazed and leaden, yet vary, suggesting anything from distraction to dejection to surprise. These details annihilate any initial pleasurable, come-hither notions. The viewer feels like an interloper, guilty for peering into these pitiable women's lives; however, the viewer should remember that the act of looking is the root of this problem. The subject's bodies never fit within the frame, suggesting that these are just captured moments from a great saga. This is false hope: the works are lone fragments that nobody can decipher.
Untitled (#88) displays the aforementioned qualities with aplomb. The young, blond woman, glowing red, crouches with her knees exposed, gazing beyond the nearby camera, which forces awkward intimacy upon the viewer. What at first seems like banal beckoning is overwhelmed by matted hair and a consuming terror or concern in her eyes. Set against a shadowy, black background, the glowing woman, whose insufficient garb and resolve cannot conceal her body and brooding soul, takes on her own gravitational pull. One feels compelled to empathize, find the source of her suffering, and just stare, captivated by her haunting beauty.