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Jeannette Montgomery Barron, Cindy Sherman (1985)
Jeannette Montgomery Barron, Cindy Sherman (1985), Contact (2021)Photography Jeannette Montgomery Barron

Do these portraits reveal the real Cindy Sherman?

Jeannette Montgomery Barron’s photographs show the reclusive artist without the usual disguises in her Downtown loft studio in the mid-80s

“I can’t remember how I managed to get Cindy Sherman’s phone number,” recalls photographer Jeannette Montgomery Barron. Nevertheless, on October 31, 1985, she found herself in a taxi heading downtown to the notoriously reclusive artist’s studio. 

Despite starring in all her own work, Sherman remains one of the art world’s most enigmatic figures. Known for her cinematic self-portraits, she uses costumes, wigs, and prosthetics to recreate scenes from fictional movies, to inhabit imagined characters, and represent social archetypes, rarely appearing in front of the lens undisguised.  

Whether by accident or perverse design, Sherman allowed Barron to take her portrait on Halloween – the one night of the year when America is gripped by a collective enthusiasm for fancy dress. Whilst the city prepared for a huge Halloween parade, Sherman welcomed Barron to her studio, unadorned of her trademark disguises. Barron reveals, “I recall it was a large open loft filled with all of Cindy’s props, lighting, and costumes.” 

Contact, a new book published by NJG Studio, collects together Barron’s images, contact sheets, and mark ups from the rolls of film shot that day. Barron tells Dazed, “She was super friendly, super easy. I’m not sure how often she had been photographed by another photographer but she seemed comfortable in front of my camera.”

The black and white portraits from this session are intimate and tender, Sherman seems absorbed in thought, wearing little or no makeup, and dressed in an anonymous, loose-fitting shirt. She appears relaxed, without affectation. Barron says, “I feel like this was the real Cindy Sherman, circa 1985, beneath all of the costumes and makeup.” 

But we’ll never really know. Like all images of Sherman, these portraits also raise fascinating questions about our ‘true’ selves and the scope of photography to depict reality. Barron herself is none the wiser. “I really don't know who the ‘real’ Cindy Sherman is,” she says. “I wish I did.” And it feels somehow satisfying to know that, despite how candid and revealing these images appear to be, Cindy Sherman’s distinctive mystique remains intact, if not even more crucially complicated than ever before. 

Take a look at the gallery above for a glimpse of Barron’s compelling portraits of Cindy Sherman.

Contact by Jeannette Montgomery Barron is published by NJG Studio and is available now