Please lend me your brain so I can make sense of this portrait
March 3, 2011 8:45 PM   Subscribe

My prosopagnosia (difficulty recognising faces) has left me with an embarrassingly obvious question about a famous Annie Leibowitz portrait.

I saw the photo at an exhibition, and spent perhaps 20 minutes trying to figure out whether Cindy Sherman is one of the women -- and if so, which one -- or whether they're all her, wearing different make-up and under different lighting.

Because I have prosopagnosia, I honestly can not tell. Usually I pick people out by their hair, clothes and posture, but obviously that doesn't work with this photo. Can someone with a better brain and/or some background knowledge about the photograph help me figure it out?

(Also, out of curiosity - is this a portrait that most people would find a bit puzzling, or is the answer clearly evident to anyone who can recognise faces?)
posted by embrangled to Media & Arts (21 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Oh bother, that link goes to an annoying flash gallery. It's the black-and-white thumbnail fourth from the right.
posted by embrangled at 8:48 PM on March 3, 2011

right left.
posted by embrangled at 8:48 PM on March 3, 2011

I think a lot of people would have a problem with this.
posted by hermitosis at 8:50 PM on March 3, 2011

I don't have prosopagnosia and I can't frickin tell at all. I *think* she might be the one dead center.
posted by KathrynT at 8:53 PM on March 3, 2011

It's hard to tell with that small image, but to me it seems like many different women, one of whom is undoubtedly Cindy Sherman. Probably it's a comment on the nature of Sherman's art, which tends to deal with the representation of women in society and art, and riffing off her habit of photographing herself in costume.
posted by BlahLaLa at 8:53 PM on March 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

Also I found this reference which mentions Cindy Sherman wanting to disappear in her Leibowitz portrait. So yes, I think this is purposely meant to be puzzling for all observers.
posted by BlahLaLa at 8:59 PM on March 3, 2011

I think, think that Sherman is the one directly in the middle (fifth from the left/right—and it would make sense to stick her in the middle, wouldn't it?). Think. I'm going mostly by these works of Sherman's from roughly the same time period.
posted by wreckingball at 9:31 PM on March 3, 2011

Per wreckingball's link, that's definitely Sherman in the precise center of the photograph.

(Though I agree I needed comparison shots to pinpoint exactly. The people on the extreme right don't look like her at all - something about the face shape and bone structure. But until I compared with other photos I thought Cindy Sherman could have been any of the people towards the center and left of the photo.)
posted by Sara C. at 9:43 PM on March 3, 2011

Number 6 from the left; I will lay money on it. I don't know what the opposite of prosopagnosia is, but that's what I have.
posted by tula at 9:44 PM on March 3, 2011

bigger version of image - I still can't tell.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:47 PM on March 3, 2011

The woman in the middle is the only one wearing well-fitting pants, and her pose is unique and strong. Try covering up some of the women on the end with a piece of paper so that she's no longer in the middle-- your eye still jumps to her, right? She's definitely intended to be the center of attention. Whether she is Cindy Sherman or not, I don't know.
posted by acidic at 9:52 PM on March 3, 2011

Looking at #5 more, I suppose that could be her if she painted her lower lip generously and tucked her chin in.
posted by tula at 9:54 PM on March 3, 2011

I don't have prosopagnosia and I had a hard time believing that the only guy in the first picture was Mick Jagger circa 1980. As for Cindy Sherman, no friggin idea so there is this data point for you.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:11 PM on March 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

I saw this in a gallery (so, big) and couldn't tell at all whether they were all the same woman or not. I don't have prosopagnosia.
posted by equivocator at 10:12 PM on March 3, 2011

Tula: six in would be my second guess, but I'm still going for #5.

Also, I believe that particular photograph may be discussed in Leibovitz's At Work, should you happen across a copy.
posted by wreckingball at 11:11 PM on March 3, 2011

wreckingball, yeah, #5 looked better when I took note that year was 1980, which would've made Ms. Sherman quite young, and her face softer and rounder. I'm perplexed.
posted by tula at 12:24 AM on March 4, 2011

Thanks, everyone. It's good to know that other people also find this portrait puzzling. I felt surprisingly impaired while trying to figure it out at the gallery, but now it looks like the ambiguity is intentional and I'm maybe not the only one who's confused. Thanks!
posted by embrangled at 1:44 AM on March 4, 2011

From this page:

3. Cindy Sherman, Vandam Street, studio, New York, 1992:
She showed up at Annie’s studio in a white shirt tucked into black pants. It wasn’t that interesting. The idea came to do a line of Cindys, only Annie didn’t realize that Cindy’s plain outfit was actually head-to-toe couture. So she grabbed some black Gap pants and white shirts.

Later, when she was doing a portrait of Claire Danes, the actress said to her, “We’ve met before.” Annie asked when, and Claire replied, “I was one of the Cindys. You put me on the end and cut me out of the photo!”

So it appears there were other women hired to mimic Ms. Sherman.
posted by TedW at 3:14 AM on March 4, 2011 [3 favorites]

Wouldn't Claire Danes have been about 12 years old in 1992?
posted by Sara C. at 5:34 AM on March 4, 2011

1992? The linked photo at top says 1980; when Claire Danes was 1. The high waist of the pants could go either way. This just gets more confusing. If 1992, and Claire Danes was a tall 13 year old, I'm back to #6.
posted by tula at 2:12 PM on March 4, 2011

A 1992 gallery showing review: Cindy Sherman, known for her own ability to don any persona, appears in a lineup of anonymous look-alikes.

The photograph is also featured in the Leibovitz collection subtitled 1990-2005.

In any event, the point is that you're not supposed to be able to tell. It's not a puzzle.
posted by dhartung at 9:05 PM on March 4, 2011

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