Bus Riders is a series of fifteen black and white photographs Sherman produced shortly after graduating from the State University College at Buffalo, New York, where she studied art (1972-6). They were not publically exhibited until the artist had them reprinted in late 2000 for an exhibition at Glen Horowitz Booksellers at East Hampton, New York, together with another series from the same period, Murder Mystery People (1976/2000). Both series were reprinted in editions of twenty. Bus Riders and Murder Mystery People provide an important bridge between a series Sherman created as a student, Untitled A, B, C and D 1975 (Tate P11437-40), and her first major work, the Untitled Film Stills 1977-80 (Tate P11516-9). Like these other early series, Bus Riders may be seen as an exploration of portraiture and the mechanics of its staging.
As is indicated by the title, the characters enacted by Sherman in Bus Riders were based on people she had observed on the bus. One of them is male; three are androgynous in appearance; five of them are black. While male characters also appear in Untitled A-D and Murder Mystery People (as well as in such later series as the History Portraits 1988-90), Sherman has not portrayed black characters in any other work. In each of the fifteen photographs the artist appears in a different outfit, wearing wigs, glasses and make-up according to the character being staged. Such props as a cigarette, a make-up mirror, a briefcase, a bulging paper bag or a book provide additional elements to the possible narratives evoked by each bus rider. All but one of the characters are seated, usually facing towards the camera, like people riding in a bus. In the last image Sherman stands, holding onto an imaginary rail above her. She used two different chairs and a high stool for variation. As in her earlier Untitled A-D series, the artist has allowed the theatricality of the characterisations to remain evident. The cable and sometimes the pump of her camera's shutter release, set off by the pressure of her foot, are plainly visible on the floor. In several of the images shoes from a previous characterisation have been left casually on the floor near the chair and appear at the edge of the frame. An anonymous leg and shoe protrude, unaccountably, into the frame of the second image, suggesting that the artist was not working alone. Two parallel lines of masking tape on the floor-boards, presumably marking the intended limits of the bus rider's position, provide further theatrical references. The photographs were clearly shot in a studio, against a white wall on which the shadow of each character reinforces the staged quality of the images. White toes peeping out of the front of open-toed shoes, below the blacked-out legs of one 'black' woman (number six in the series), add a comic edge to the pathos of this particular character.
The characters in Bus Riders, originating from an ordinary, everyday activity, have an ordinary, everyday appearance. After producing many series of portraits which are far more extreme in their theatricality, Sherman returned to a staging of 'everyday' characters with her 'West' and 'East coast'-type women in 2000.
Amanda Cruz, Elizabeth A.T. Smith, Amelia Jones, Cindy Sherman: Retrospective, exhibition catalogue, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago and The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles 1997
Monique Beudert, Sean Rainbird, Contemporary Art: The Janet Wolfson de Botton Gift, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1998
Early Work of Cindy Sherman, exhibition catalogue, Glenn Horowitz Bookseller, East Hampton, New York 2000, reproduced [pp.5-19]