The Photography of Francesca Woodman

         Francesca Woodman is yet another example of postmortem fame. After years without recognition for her work, Francesca committed suicide in 1981. After her death, her work snowballed in its prestige; books, documentaries and exhibitions piled up. This posthumous acclaim places her in the ranks with Edgar Allen Poe and Vincent Van Gogh. She is also similar to these men in the darkness and intensity of her work. 

          In this self portrait taken by a thirteen year old Francesca, she was already beginning to show the important aspects of her unique, artistic style. All of her photos were in black and white and many of them were self portraits. The power of the selfie of a teenage girl is only now being discussed, but in 1972, Francesca already knew the power of baring herself to the camera. She hides her face in her hair, but her youth and innocence is clear. The strength in the image comes from her reserve. Even at this early age, Francesca's photography shows a certain maturity. 

           Despite the early brilliance of thirteen year old Francesca, her development is clear in this photo taken four years later. Here, Francesca uses the power of the self portrait by showing herself to the camera. She makes eye-contact with the viewer and gestures into the darkness. This Alice in Wonderland photo makes use of Francesca’s youth. Her childish outfit and fresh baby face contrast with the peeling walls behind her. Again, she displayed a maturity beyond her age in knowing how to play into her own vulnerability. 

           This photo shows the beginning of nudity in Francesca’s work. The emotion is palpable and familiar. The subject is vulnerable yet trapped, her nudity a powerful and shocking statement to come from an underage girl. Clear parallels can be drawn between this image and society's view of the female body. It is naked and sexualized but on display, not to be used for practical purposes and only for looking at and praising. Francesca trying to break free of the museum case that contains her is a common theme in her work. 

          The deathlike imagery of this photo contrasts its beauty. The girl laying on the sand looks like she is dead, yet the beauty of her face is stunning in its reflection in the mirror. White lilies are often used at funerals and the other figure's dark dress continues this morbid imagery. 

          Here three woman hold photos of Woodman over their own faces next to her own photo taped on the wall. The photos held in front of their faces are faded and wrinkled as though they were photocopied, but the photograph on the wall is vibrant and smooth. The women are naked, absent of any trace of themselves.  

          The ambiguity of emotion in this photo draws in the viewer. Francesca’s mouth is thrown open in what could be a frightful grimace or a scream of jubilation.  Either way there is a freedom in this photo that is in defiance of the restriction that comes with female nudity. There is no self awareness in this image, only pure abandonment of the self.

          The corset Woodman is wearing in this frame almost disfigures her body. Francesca is naked asides from her antiquated undergarments. The Victorian motif extends beyond the furniture and wardrobe. It is also seen in the tortured posture of her body, her face hidden from the camera but her emotion clear. 

          Francesca Woodman’s photography was and is revolutionary. Never pretty, always beautiful, powerful, and emotional. From the time she was thirteen to right before her death, Francesca Woodman was a pioneer in photography expressing things that cannot be put into words through the magic of her imagery. 

text: ariela rosenzweig
visuals:, resurrection vintage, uc publishing, francesca woodman

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