Bailey Dowlin Untitled Film Stills

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Ever since I was a freshman at DAAP, I have loved Cindy Sherman’s “Untitled Film Series”. It was one of the first things I learned about in my Intro to Contemporary Art class, and has stuck with me since. I always wanted to make a series of photographs similar to Cindy’s series, but I did not have a good camera and it just never occurred before. So when the opportunity to make my own untitled film still project came, I was excited to take it on. What drew me to recreate this series is my interest in film noir. Sherman’s work was a reflection of similar films that I enjoy watching. I love classic films, especially those directed by Alfred Hitchcock. I also love black and white photography. Something about black and white photography is very aesthetically pleasing to me.

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With these untitled film stills, I wanted a vintage feel. All of the photos were taken at my Grandmother’s house, which is like stepping back in time. The furniture, appliances, clothing, wallpaper, etc. have not been changed since the 1960’s when the house was originally built. With the surroundings already unique and vintage, the challenge was to make my hair, makeup, and clothes look as though they were vintage as well. It was very fun to fix my hair differently and dress up in outfits that I would normally not wear. I felt as though I were another person when I took these pictures, which is similar to how Cindy Sherman felt when she did her portraits.

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Using my tripod, my Wi-Fi adapter, and my app on my smartphone, I was able to take the self-portraits. Technology has come quite a long way since Sherman first created her Untitled Film Series. An advantage I have compared to Sherman is that I am able to see how my photograph will look before I push the button; I am able to adjust my position and check the composition before the picture is taken. Also, being a digital DSLR camera rather than a film camera, there was much more room for trial and error, whereas a film camera with a timer would make it much more difficult to have successful results. It took lots of deciding and preparation before each photograph was taken however.

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The location where almost every photo was taken is significant to the work as well. Growing up, almost every Sunday I always watched classic black and white films with my Grandmother. Compared to many girls my age, I have a wide breadth of knowledge and exposure to old movies, and Sherman’s work seemed more familiar and interesting to me. I shot most of the pictures in my Grandmother’s house, which is the very place I came to know these black and white films. This project is very sentimental to me as well as a fun, creative way to take self-portraits. Although I am the subject of the photo, it really isn’t me in the photo, but a character I decided to play. Each character was influenced by my setup and surroundings, and came to life once the picture was taken.

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Cindy Sherman almost always had the same facial expression in her photos, mainly a look that was a combination of mild concern and boredom. Almost every photo I have the same expression. The only picture that I have a slightly different expression is the photo taken in my Grandmother’s basement; I tried to look dramatic and frightened. The first time I did this assignment, I tried to tell a story, however for the final stage, I focused on becoming another person. I made my hair look short and did not wear as much makeup as the first time around, and there are lots of mirrors.

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One thing that I found difficult with the final project was trying to make the photos distinctive. I found that a lot of images were looking in the mirror, I had not realized how so until later. Also, I tended to position myself similarly and look to the same side, so a lot of the images look similar. However, I changed my outfits and hair. If I were to redo this project, I would invest in wigs and change my face a bit more. However, I feel as though the images as a set were still interesting and read to be unique.

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The final project has not one story line it follows. A few images focus on vanity of a person. This character I am playing is constantly grooming and looking in the mirror at her own reflection, never seeming to be satisfied or happy, although she is surrounded by beautiful things. There are several images that display this theme of self-absorption and dissatisfaction. A few of the images do not follow this theme however; two of the images have the character surrounded by family pictures. These pictures are actually my family members, so the photos are more personal to me. My Great Grandmother, Grandmother, Mom, Aunt, and other family members are in one picture, and the other has pictures of my Great Aunt and my Grandmother when they were around my age, so I thought it would be interesting to stand by them. And a few of the other images stand alone, have different characters that do not relate in any way to one another.

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As a whole, I am satisfied with the way the images turned out. I was concerned that the images would look too similar, however the different backgrounds and use of props helped differentiate between the “film stills”. Upon further consideration, a series of film stills would have similar looking images. Each time I did the project, I had similar hair and makeup, but outfit changes and settings, much like a film; hairstyle and makeup generally remains the same or slightly altered, but there are constant outfit changes and locations change with each scene. Each picture was like a different scene during a black and white film. This series would be something I am interested in continuing in the future, but for now, I am not eager to take more self portraits, I would like to work with other subjects for a bit before I return to using myself as a subject.

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