We all must have experienced a different type of people at bus stops. Bus stops might have the most variety of human beings in any city. Starting from the rich, poor, punks, students, old, housewives, workers, and a lot more. Cindy Sherman observed these people and wanted to capture this diversity.
In this series of photographs and her other works, Sherman goes through the process of characterization and adoption of different personalities and stereotypes. Sherman makes her individuality disappear, giving birth to a character instead.
The Bus Riders
The Bus Riders series was shot in 1976 but wasn’t displayed until 2000. Bus Riders is a series of photographs of fifteen passengers, all portrayed by Cindy Sherman herself, who are waiting for the bus to arrive. Those passengers have their specific personality, character, and body language. Each one of them is very different from the other. There are people from all walks of life.
How Bus Riders was created
Creating Bus Riders wasn’t an easy task. Cindy Sherman went to many thrift stores and flea markets to get what she was looking for. She found wigs, props, makeup, and clothes to fit in the characters. Cindy Sherman worked alone, so she did not have any models who could portray the characters. What was amazing as well as challenging for Sherman was the fact that she was the model, photographer, and the storyteller. To capture the individuality of each character, she represented them herself. She would completely makeover and turn herself into the character to the point where she couldn’t recognize herself anymore.
Cindy Sherman went through the hassle of going through multiple bus rides, observing people, and collecting characters. She could have just photographed them there like Walker Evans, and Chris Marker did. But Sherman didn’t want to capture only the bus riders. She tried to show something else.
As we move through this series, photograph after photograph, we notice a certain tension between the photographer and the subject. The photographing and the photographed have been made clear. The cable release and marks on the floor show the photographing and the hammy costumes and the funny makeup show the photographed. In each image, the theatrical effect remains intact as we see shadows, shoes lying around, and a protruding leg.
Without all the jostling and the hassle at the bus station, the most natural poses look eerie. Sherman throws a weighty message in this natural setting. The pictures aren’t meant to represent and match the scene from a bus station. They are intended to say much more with the crude blackface and flashy look.
The pictures don’t mean to sound convincing, but they portray a very different aspect of the bus riders. The series shows how gender and self-perception work and how caste and marks of society affect people. That is indeed a heavy topic discussed in these very casual photographs. But there is a light undertone as well. These photographs make you laugh, they are charming, and there is no hidden malice in these. Everything just screams for itself.
Why is this work important?
Bus Riders was created at a time when many people believed that photographs could never tell an entire story but only snippets of what is going on.
Cindy Sherman, just fresh out of college, took it upon herself to tell a story using photographs.
Sherman uses her own body for gender construction and adds in a theatrical aspect to it maximize the effect of the image on the viewer. Sherman has wanted to portray how society stereotypes women. Her work is a representation of post-modern feminism.
It stirred quite a controversy among people that a white woman had dressed up as a black woman. This black representation shows how she had no care for the race of a person, but her works portrayed that society’s racist behavior did affect the people who were just human beings.
This series shows the idea of how we encounter very different people on bus stops. Everyone has something on their mind and somewhere to go. Interestingly, one is male, three are androgynous, and five are black. The props like handbags, cigarettes, and grocery bags tell that each character has their own personality and story.
Cindy Sherman’s work is not thought-provoking. It is also inspirational because, through her work, she tells artists to become the performers themselves and brings the idea of fluidity of gender and identity. Although it is Sherman herself as the subject in each picture, Sherman never calls them self-portraits. She believes she has left her character outside the picture and assumed a different person altogether.