"Now we come to the passage. You can just see a little peep of the passage in Looking-glass House, if you leave the door of our drawing room wide open: and it's very like our passage as far as you can see, only you know it may be quite different on beyond."
The first time I heard about Francesca Woodman was through a site by the name of Photographyblog.com. At that time, there was an advertisement for a movie called "The Woodmans". Now I have to add that I'm not usually one to get my head wrapped around one certain Photographer. From the very top of my head, I can only name two Photographers that I actually care to reference if I were to be asked who some of my inspirations are. Besides that, the pioneers of Photography never quite reached my attention. But in this case, it was different. I watched the trailer for this documentary which was made based on Francesca Woodman and her extraordinary yet short lived life as a Photographer. As much as I wanted to, I never made it to that film which was showing exclusively at select theaters. But ever since then, I never forget her image, her skeletal pale figure and her haunting video which truly got me asking questions about her as a person and the photographs which she took. American Photography Magazine released their November/December 2011 issue and within the issue were some recommendations for the best photo books of the year. I point this out because from here on and out, you'll see me reference this magazine a lot since most of my reading material is from that issue. I would go as far to say that if any one of you enjoys a good and detailed read of any type of Photography and Photographers, read some of their suggestions. You won't be disappointed. Moving forward, I decided to pick up this copy with interest and anticipation, hoping to find out more about the beautiful tragedy that was known as Francesca Woodman. Though I will go more in depth about this book and the Photographs engraved within the pages I would like to note that one, this was a very deep and detailed look into the Photography that Francesca created.
There are only three essays found in this book but all are very well written and all analyzing every trait, every possible meaning, even the very personal side of Francesca and her Photography, Journal Entries, and Videos. Part coffee table book to enjoy (though I might warn that her photos are not for the weak minded), and partly analytical writing, this book brings forward the most descriptive and personal look at Francesca and for anyone who wishes to know more about her and see some beautifully taken Photographs, I would highly recommend this book. That is a very short conclusion to what I will in more detail talk about as I go farther into this review.
And two, in by no means do any of you have to agree with what I have to say about this book and the Photographs attached to it. These are my opinions and I will not force them upon my readers. I encourage you to think for yourself, think before you write, and ask questions along the way. And I would be more than happy to hear your thoughts, opinions, and questions if you have any. So shoot me an email at email@example.com and I will do my best to reply. With that said, let's continue forward with this in-depth review of Francesca Woodman.
The Girl in the Polka Dotted Dress
"Ultimately, we are left with a deeply personal body of work imbued with a palpable sense of urgency, the efforts of a young artist only beginning to explore the rich possibilities of the photographic medium and her imagination"
It's hard to imagine an artist barely out of college deserving some recognition. At that stage in their lives, they are young fruitful souls only beginning to fully comprehend the powerful tool that they yield with such creativity and expression.
But not Francesca Woodman. She wasn't like you and I. She was beyond her time and beyond the people around her. In nine years Francesca captured brilliant photographs which during her time were misunderstood but willingly noted that there was something about her techniques which made her stand out from the rest of the crowd.
Sadly though, right when her recognition was about to be seen, she killed herself and left a body of work that would become masterpieces as they were discovered over time.
Thirty years and we are only starting to truly look into her photographs are a whole. By doing so, Francesca is finally getting her 15 minutes of fame. Edited by Corey Keller, who is the associate curator of photography over at SFMOMA (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art), and presented by SFMOMA, this book brings forward Francesca into the spot light she deserved back when she was alive. Her body of art is currently being showed at SFMOMA and along with it, friends and family and other contributing sources, is allowing the public viewers to get a better look at Francesca as a whole. With over 150 pages worth of material, Keller and SFMOMA present us a beautifully well put together book that takes us into the haunting black and white Photographs of Francesca Woodman. When it comes to Photography, the Photographers behind the lens usually have a certain signature look or feel to what they shoot a special quality that only they have within their own photos and Francesca is no exception. She was well known for herself portraits in which she would use her body as the main subject.
She would then photograph herself nude (most of the photos that you'll find in this book will be of her nude, yet these aren't your typically nudity shots which is a point that Keller brings up in her essays.) along with being nude, the choice of clothing which was by no means on accident were carefully placed in the frame. Along with her choice of poses and clothing, if she chose to wear anything or not, she also had a morbid attraction towards decaying surroundings. While Francesca could be called self obsessed, the style in which she took her photos were only the start of the genius yet mysterious thought behind her photos. Within Keller's essays, she explores these themes in which Francesca would Photograph herself in. And there would be this imposing question if her photos which were taken between of 1975 to 1981, which had to do with the feminist movement which was taking place during that historic time.
This question, which is looked at very carefully, could lead us to knowing what could have been the true motive behind her photos. If feminism and Francesca was a way of self expression towards a bigger picture and message to the general public. Not only did Francesca take photos of herself but she also took a few of her friends, one who is commonly seen in some of the photographs that she took. Francesca rarely photographed men which Keller looks into deeply. As said by Keller "Woodman rarely photographed men, but the few pictures she did make are fraught, and are infrequently discussed or exhibited." But this is something important, because as Keller continues to explain, "In turning her camera on a male subject, Woodman frustrates tidy theories about her work as a prolonged feminist inquiry into the overlapping arenas of female subjected hood and object hood." By allowing her male subjects to be of such quality, she would deliberately choose models that were slim with feminine qualities.
She would also desexualize them by having them cup their genitals and so on.
Behind all her photographs was also the usage of architectural space.
Which I pointed out before, most of her photos were taken in remote gothic like areas or in her own private studio. Her usage of space was especially important to her as Francesca would write in her journal "I am interested in the way people relate to space. The best way to do this to depict their interactions to the boundaries of these spaces."
This also brings me to the point that not only did Keller did a magnificent job at detailing Woodman's photos throughout the essays, but she also backed her information up by not only the photographs in the book but by providing us with very personal data like Francesca's journals and quoted words by her close friends and even her mother and father. All this helps to paint us a better and like I keep saying, personal look into what Francesca was trying to capture and why.
Throughout these essays, Keller is careful to give us specific details about a few of Francesca's photos. Two which come to mind are titled "Horizontale" and "Verticale", in these two photos (I suggest you to not only Google these photos but also the rest of her work), show the lower half of a female body sitting in a chair, the legs are wrapped in spiraling bands of constriction tape. Here, Keller carefully gives us two different sides of the story behind these two photographs as say says "Let me be more specific about how divergent approaches to Woodman have generated starkly different understandings by examining several readings of the same photograph."
And that is the key point about Woodman's photographs. Her photos are almost impossible to understand. By Keller not only examining her approach to the photographs that she shot, she also looks into her personal life outside of the studio such as the life she had at Rhode Island School of Design (which was where she studied Photography), her trips to Italy and New York, and even her puzzling videos. We get the sense that with every possibility, there are new questions behind every possible answer. ", "Although Woodman was unusually talented and precocious, her compact career represents an artist on the verge, neither mature woman nor innocent child but in that fertile, tumultuous, provisional moment before true maturity.", as Keller puts it to us so precisely. So with that said, there is the problem that even though Keller took the time to carefully examine Francesca, so did so with a very confusing approach.
Though she tries carefully to lead us along with her, I thought it was hard to follow for the fact that she seemed obsessive with the feminism possibilities behind Francesca's photos. Perhaps by saying this I'm missing a very important factor, but I feel like she didn't give as much attention to other aspects as she did with feminism. But you have to give it to Keller for barley touching on the death of Francesca since that subject alone has endless of questions and possibilities for the fact that her suicide was never clear.
We can only guess that within her photographs was a girl who was in imperil and allowed herself to express such distress through the self obsessed photos that she took but even that isn't clear. With all said and done, this isn't, in my opinion, your every day run of the mill kind of Photography book. Francesca's work mattered then and it matters now. And will continue to grow for those who are impacted by her history, her narrative, and self-representation. There is without a doubt that there is something that draws us into her photographs, and how her work will keep us guessing like it has been for over thirty years.