Sophie Calle

I’m intrigued about Calle’s life and her work. I stumbled across her book in the library and decided to pick it up because of its name M’as- tu vu? which translates as Did you see me? This title was important to me because I have a fondness for the french language (I used to use French to say things that I felt unable or embarrassed to admit, I’d write my secrets in French. It was almost like a coding, and a more romantic way to say what I felt.); but it was also important because it made me think about philosophical meanings to seeing a person.

The book did not disappoint. Sophie’s work is not art work that has been created as such, it is a documentation of her life but also it’s living her life for her art. She uses photography, writing and installations to display her work. Calle’s work is very autobiographical which is what I am attracted to in art, and what I like to present also.

  • Calle’s photography paired with a paragraph of her account on the work
  • Her boyfriend dumping her
  • Hiring a private detective


i really like the way she writes about her work, and chooses an image that has a much deeper meaning to her life but it’s not obvious to the viewer until you read her text.

Nan Goldin

Goldin 1989

I want to show exactly what my world looks like, without glamorisation, without glorification. This is not a bleak world but one in which there is an awareness of pain, a quality of introspection.

Goldin 1996 pg 33

I don’t believe in a single portrait. I believe only in the accumulation of portraits as a representation of a person. Because I think people are really complex

Matthew Ryan Smith 2008 pg 5

In confessional artistic discourse, the yearning to concede the private is a powerful force towards artistic production for a multiplicity of subjective reasoning’s, but for many, the cathartic properties inherent in confession is where the therapeutic benefits reside.”

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.

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” 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).

Framing, angle, shadows and light, the room, and the text. 


“I have to stay alone in order to fully contemplate and feel nature. The painter should paint not only what he has in front of him, but also what he sees inside himself.” —Caspar David Friedrich

The term Rückenfigur comes from the German Romanticism movement which took place in the late 18th to early 19th century. Caspar David Friedrich famously used Rückenfigur in his paintings:


Rückenfigur involves the view of the back of a person- this means that we, the viewer, see what the person depicted sees. We experience what they are and we almost become them, in a way we become more connected to the person. Although, it can also have the opposite effect of feeling like the person is turning away from us and there is a distance. There is a melancholic atmosphere that is created with rückenfigur, and a pensive, intriguing aspect to it.

Elizabeth Prettejohn wrote:

Unlike more traditional representations of landscape, this painting does not pretend to present us with a natural scene as it exists in its own right, but makes us conscious instead that we are seeing a human perception of nature.


Ways of Seeing -John Berger

page 46

By contrast, a woman’s presence expresses her own attitude to herself, and defines what can and cannot be done to her. Her presence is manifest in her gestures, voice, opinions, expressions, clothes, chosen surroundings, taste – indeed there is nothing she can do which does not contribute to her presence. Presence for a woman is so intrinsic to her person that men tend to think of it as an almost physical emanation, a kind of heat or smell or aura.”


She has to survey everything she is and everything she does because how she appears to others, and ultimately how she appears to men, is of crucial importance for what is normally thought of as the success of her life. Her own sense of being in herself is supplanted by a sense of being appreciated as herself by another.


How a person is surveyed/ perceived affects the way they are treated. I am in a constant state of surveying myself, and surveying how I think other people are surveying me too. I make myself the object of my own surveying and therefore I am the object for others to survey too.

page 47:

Every one of her actions – whatever it’s direct purpose of m… – is also read as an indication of how she would like to be treated.



Chris Townsend:

The monoprint is not a means of generating serial imagery but rather a strategy of distantiation, of removing a certain immediacy and directness of gesture which might characterize the drawing.


There is, therefore, both a distance between the apparent immediacy of expression that the work conveys, and the necessary preparation contingent on the medium that carries it.