Francesca Woodman

Francesca Woodman was an American photographer best known for her black and white images of either herself or female models. Many of her images feature nudity, and bodies blending into their surroundings, as well as blurring and the obscuring of faces. Woodman was born in April 1958 to a couple of artists, George and Betty Woodman, her life was a short yet eventful one, and ended with her suicide at the age of 22 in January 1981. Still now, years after her tragic death, her work is subject to critical acclaim and attention.

Woodman’s preferred camera was a medium format using 6×6 negatives to make her photographs. She like to print her images on a small scale, 8×10 for example. In 201o, in “An Intimate Mode of Looking – Francesca Woodman Photographs”, Jane Simons claimed that Woodman “works to produce an intimate experience between the viewer and photograph.” Woodman’s images were an insight to her mind, to the way that she saw the world, and the way that she thought the world saw her. Her work has many influences and inspirations, she had an interest in ‘gothic fiction’ and ‘victorian heroines’, other artist that influence her work are people such as Duane Michaels who also blurred faces and featured the idea of ‘Angels’ in his work. She also admired Deborah Turbeville, Woodman would write to her and ask her to telephone her. The work of Man Ray also inspired her, leading to the movement of surrealism. During my research I found an article written by Alan Riding for the New York Times in 1998, “Pictures, perhaps, of her despair; a young photographers work may or may not hold clues to her suicide.” In this piece he discussed the life and work of Woodman, he said the she “followed the movements (surrealism) tradition of not explaining work” and the she demonstrated a “desire to crack the code of appearances.” He also made the point that her work “should be judged for what it is not for what it promised, yet once acquired, the knowledge that  she committed suicide at the age of 22 is bound to influence how her work is seen.” I agree and find this statement key when looking at Woodman’s images, because as a viewer we know that she was depressed and suicidal, the images appear to reflect these emotions. However if we didn’t know these facts, would the images seem to reflect a more feminist statement, I think the images would have a much more political and less personal tone if the story of her life and death was unknown. Riding himself said that Woodman was “portrayed as a bold feminist whose exploration of her own nakedness represents women rediscovery of their bodies”. However in the same article he also said that the use of “women’s bodies to make feminist statements was fashionable in the 1970’s, yet Woodman seemed more concerned with her own identity.” “Rarely do her images reach out to shock; they are neither erotic nor voyeuristic. Rather, they are profoundly emotional in a trapped kind of way, almost inviting the viewer to help find her. Her face is often blurred or looking away or reflected in a mirror or simply not in the frame.” It is this idea of lost identity that I find the most intriguing and the idea that will influence my own work within this project.

Woodman also chooses locations such as abandoned house with crumbling walls to do her shoots, this can be seen in her series ‘Space’ 1976 and ‘House’ 1975-76. Not only does this mean that she had interesting surfaces and textures to work with, but there is also the symbolism that manifests in these worn down places. They too are lost and in a way ‘have lost their identity’ and been neglected.

Towards the end of Woodman’s life, her work began to feature less of her nude body, she seemed to disconnect with her work, Riding suggested that “she exhausted her primary subject” and that life just got too much for her.

House#3. 1976
Space2, Providence, Rhode Island. 1976
Space2. 1976
Rome 1977-78
Polka Dots. 1976-77
House#4. 1976
Then at one point I did not need to translate the notes; they went directly to my hands.

The last image “Then at one point I did not need to translate the notes; they went directly to my hands” is the one that I feel the most connection with, this image stands out to me because of the way that Woodman is at one with her surroundings. She is hiding from herself and desperately trying to blend in. I think that the title this image is also the most significant, I interpret these words as she has stopped trying, she has given up and become at one with her surroundings. The use of the old wall paper to cover her body is something I will try to replicate in my own work, as well as the nude body to create venerability.


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