This exhibition draws from Cindy Sherman’s collection of found photographs, scrapbooks and albums, including over 200 photographs taken at Casa Susanna, a 1960s upstate New York retreat for cross-dressing men run by Susanna (Tito Valenti) and her wife Marie—a master wig maker. Casa Susanna was a safe space where guests could freely express what Susanna termed ‘the girl-within’. These were private photographs taken by and passed among members of the Casa Susanna community, hidden from a hostile outside world. Sherman found the album containing these photographs at an antique fair in New York City in the early 2000s.
The exhibition also includes albums and scrapbooks that once belonged to families, lovers and fans. ‘Bobby and Cindi’ was Sherman’s first found scrapbook. It previously belonged to star-crossed lovers, whose identities are known only through the names scrawled across its pages. There is an album dedicated to 1930s actor Charles McClelland, whose IMDB profile suggests a career limited to generic roles such as ‘Detective’, ‘Cop’ and ‘Brakeman’. Other albums document an American GI’s travels through the Pacific, a romantic retreat to Denver, a circus troupe and the construction of a Massachusetts highway. Sherman describes looking at these albums as ‘like looking into a stranger’s life, just without many facts, just what they show and tell you’.
Here, we also see these photographs through Cindy Sherman’s work. The use of photography to perform and assert femininity at Casa Susanna anticipates Sherman’s explorations into gender roles and identity construction. The expressions, gestures and movements of the people in all the photographs look like Shermanesque performances to camera.