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Francesca Woodman

American Photographer

Francesca Woodman Photo

Born: April 3, 1958 - Denver, Colorado

Died: January 19, 1981 - New York City

"I feel like I am floating in plasma. I need a teacher or a lover. I need someone to risk being involved with me. I am so vain and I am so masochistic."

Summary of Francesca Woodman

Francesca Woodman produced universally commanding and profound images from the age of thirteen. Born into a family of artists, 'art' was her first language. She experienced early exposure to a plethora of exemplary creative people along with countless potential historical, literary, and theoretical influences. Woodman worked with traditional photographic techniques but was consistently performative and experimental in her practice. Many of her works are multi-media, including drawings, selected objects, and sculptures within her photographs. Settings may vary from confined interiors to the expansive outdoors, but Woodman herself is always there. Typically the sole subject, and often naked, she can be found caught entwined within a landscape or edging out of the photographic frame. Interested in the limits of representation, the artist's body is habitually cropped, endlessly concealed, and never wholly captured. Woodman was acutely aware of the evanescent nature of life and of living close to death. She positions the self as too limitless to be contained, and thus reveals singular identity as an elusive and fragmentary notion.

Key Ideas

Woodman was not interested in 'mass culture'. Whilst artists such as Cindy Sherman and Richard Prince re-worked and subverted contemporary film stills and icons of advertising during the late 1970s, Woodman upheld a more timeless view interested in classical myths, commonplace objects, and explorations of nature and the self.
Woodman practiced techniques of long-exposure as means to capture movement, blur, and sometimes total disappearance. She was interested in what photography as a medium does with time, disrupting the linear flow between the past, present, and future. As a female artist, these interests made her work unusual for its time, for whilst Feminist artists were boldly affirming individual presence, Woodman privileged trace, absence, and reflection.
Although Woodman did not have much in common with American mainstream straight photography of her era, it is important to remember that other forms of American and European modernist practice greatly inspired and influenced her work. She had avidly studied Surrealism and knew well the experimental images of Duane Michaels along with those of other American photographers interested in an alternative tradition.
Woodman read stylistically Gothic literature rich with symbols of tombs, derelict and ruined buildings, mirrors, and angels. Many of these stories featured female protagonists forcibly imprisoned for so-called madness or hysteria, and as such considered existence from a liminal perspective where life and death writhe, straggle, and intersect. Woodman strives to make visible the perpetual state of anxiety that she experiences walking through life with death constantly on her mind.
Woodman committed suicide at age 22 and in the shadow of this fact a film of sadness covers her photographs. The viewer looks for clues as to how and why the young, beautiful, and talented woman took her own life. Woodman gives privileged insight to a suicidal mind, and engages the viewer by presenting her personal story as inseparable from her art.
Francesca Woodman Photo

Francesca Woodman was born in Denver in 1958. She was the daughter of two American artists, George Woodman, a painter and photographer who held a teaching post in art criticism at the University of Colorado, and Betty Woodman, an increasingly important ceramic artist. Growing up in Boulder, surrounded entirely by painters, filmmakers, and critics, Francesca was close to her older brother Charles, himself an aspiring video-artist.

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