5.Francesca Woodman

Woodman has been a key artist for me, being the first that had an effect on my work back in School. The first image I saw was the following, which still has this dramatic affect on me which I think is due to the familiarity and feeling the initial reaction I had to it:

I remember feeling quite embarrassed and worried about how my peers and teacher would react to me bringing a photograph of a naked woman, which I think is quite interesting considering Woodman’s age during her artistic career (as she was young herself). I wasn’t quite sure of why I was so intrigued by this image and by the artist, but I knew she was important to my work and here I am 7 years on revisiting her. I think part of my initial, and still to this day, attraction to this piece is because of her honesty of identity; she has presented herself nude in a bare room with just a pair of ‘Mary Jane’ shoes and a shadow she has created diagonally in front of her. I wasn’t aware about what ‘Mary Jane’ shoes were when I first saw this photograph but I remember the shoes reminded me of shoes I would call ‘dolly shoes’ and made me thing of a school girl. Which made me question even more this image because of the contrasting nude woman body with young shoes. Now having researched the shoes, they have the history of being typical shoes a mother or domestic wife would wear. I think this is an interesting idea that Woodman is exploring of femininity and where the place in which they are as well as the shadow.. the way the shadow is not of a full body. She has chosen to present parts of her body to sink into the floor of the derelict building.

Francesca Woodman was an American photographer but spent a lot of her life living in Europe. Her family were artists so art was a crucial part of her growing up, and this helped her to begin her plethora of work in such a short life span (up to aged 22 when she committed suicide). Woodman’s work consists of predominantly black and white photographs of herself or friends, nude or partly clothed, integrated in the surroundings and distorted.

The space in which Woodman worked in was an integral part of her work; she often used abandoned buildings and used the room she was working in to merge with her body. Woodman becomes part of the building, and the materials manipulated to have other functions.

“Even when wholly present in the picture as the subject of her self-portraits, Woodman is never quite with us, never quite with herself.” – Chris Townsend

“Not only, as Townsend notes, do Woodman’s photographs present an obsession with the problem of space, and space’s function as frame,but this obsession is keyed into Kant’s theorization of the gaze in the sublime as an event violently displaced from the spatial ad the temporal. Woodman’s photographs exemplify a risky and troubled relationship to space, an exploration that pressures boundaries.” (kant sublime book)

Whats interesting for me is her use of framing, the composition of her photographs is unlike the usual standards of photography. She cuts off parts of her body, she de-centralises herself, and will use a long shutter so that she can move certain parts of herself or material to create a distortion.


In this image, Woodman used white powder on the floor then pressed her body to create a diagonal imprint, then posed for the camera but cut off the top half of her body. The viewer is unable to see where her eyes are looking but we are very aware that her gaze is on the body imprint she has just created. Woodman uses her gaze to show us to look at her gaze. She plays around with the concept of a self-portrait by including two fragmented images of herself in one photograph, which gives me the sense of dissociation and uncanny.

Woodman’s gaze turned on herself structures a mise en abyme of gazing, a gesture that disrupts in turn each frame of reference by which we interpret her self-portrait photographs.  sumblime book

page 15

Phelan’s valorization of Woodman’s work as articulating “fragility” nevertheless is useful in terms of it’s evocation of the fragility of the medium, the photograph as transiet mememto. The disappearance evoked by Woodman’s manupulation of shutter speed to create images of herself as a blurred figure, or her use of square format and cropping to display images of herslf without a head, or her placing herslef at the edge of the photograph’s frame, is not the disappearance of Woodman’s self but a shifting of the mechanism of the frame itself , and a shifting of the mechanism of audience as implied limit of the photograph.”

Woodman uses long shutter speeds so that she can capture movement and distortions in her portraits. She, the subject, is distorted contrasting with the still background of the room. In the photographs where Woodman is blurred, she is using the room as part of her distortion.. not just distortion so again she is being a part of time and space.

“Woodmans virtuosic revelation of the relationship between architecture and the body ties her photography to Kant’s sublime through a shared gestyre of founding the aesthetic on the body’s relationship to space as inhabitation, as house” – Francesca woodman and the Kantian Sublime- page 6

Another interesting aspect to Woodman’s photography is sense of ephereal that she creates. This idea reminds me of what Henry Fox Talbot called “fairy pictures” (pg 18). Early methods of photo making that were “destined as rapidly to fade away” (quoted in The History of Photography: From 1893 to the Present). The blur that Woodman creates reflects the way that photographs would eventually be lost to light- Woodman in her self-portrait becomes lost or is “on the verge of the formlessness of light” (Claire Raymond).

The choice of framing, her use of light, and the text she includes all appeal to me and my style of work. 


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