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|Born||April 3, 1958|
|Died||January 19, 1981 (aged 22)|
New York City, New York
|Born||April 3, 1958|
|Died||January 19, 1981 (aged 22)|
New York City, New York
Francesca Woodman (April 3, 1958 – January 19, 1981) was an American photographer best known for her black and white pictures featuring herself and female models. Many of her photographs show young women who are nude, blurred (due to movement and long exposure times), merging with their surroundings, or whose faces are obscured. Her work continues to be the subject of much critical acclaim and attention, years after she committed suicide at the age of 22.
Francesca Woodman was born on April 3, 1958, in Denver, Colorado, to artists George Woodman and Betty Woodman (Abrahams). Her older brother Charles later became an associate professor of electronic art. Her mother is Jewish and her father is from a Protestant background.
Woodman attended public school in Boulder, Colorado, between 1963 and 1971 except for second grade, which she attended in Italy. She began high school in 1972 at the private Massachusetts boarding school Abbot Academy, where she began to develop her photographic skills and became interested in the art form. Abbot Academy merged with Phillips Academy in 1973; Woodman graduated from the public Boulder High School in 1975. Through 1975, she spent summers with her family in Italy.(p. 154) She spent her time in Italy in the Florentine countryside, where she lived on an old farm with her parents.
Beginning in 1975, Woodman attended the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) in Providence, Rhode Island. She studied in Rome between 1977 and 1978 in a RISD honors program. As she spoke fluent Italian, she was able to befriend Italian intellectuals and artists.(pp. 26–30,154) She went back to Rhode Island in late 1978 to graduate from RISD.(p. 154)
Woodman moved to New York City in 1979. After spending the summer of 1979 in Stanwood, Seattle whilst visiting her boyfriend at Pilchuck Glass School, she returned to New York "to make a career in photography". She sent portfolios of her work to fashion photographers, but "her solicitations did not lead anywhere".(p. 155) In the summer of 1980 she was an artist-in-residence at the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire.(p. 155)
In late 1980 Woodman became depressed due to the failure of her work to attract attention and to a broken relationship.
She survived a suicide attempt, after which she lived with her parents in Manhattan. On January 19, 1981, she committed suicide by jumping out a loft window in New York.(p. 155) An acquaintance wrote, "things had been bad, there had been therapy, things had gotten better, guard had been let down". Her father has suggested that Woodman's suicide was related to an unsuccessful application for funding from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Although Woodman used different cameras and film formats during her career, most of her photographs were taken with medium format cameras producing 2-1/4 by 2-1/4 inch (5.7 by 5.7 cm) square negatives.(p. 9)(p. 179) Woodman created at least 10,000 negatives, which her parents now keep. Woodman's estate, which is managed by Woodman's parents and represented by the Marian Goodman Gallery in New York, consists of over 800 prints, of which only around 120 images had been published or exhibited as of 2006.(p. 6) Most of Woodman's prints are 8 by 10 inches (20 by 25 cm) or smaller, which "works to produce an intimate experience between viewer and photograph".
Many of Woodman's images are untitled and are known only by a location and date. The table below contains information on some of Woodman's most famous photographs. For each photograph, the location, the date, the title and a brief description are given (since multiple images may share the same location, date, and title, and a single image may be assigned multiple locations, dates and titles). The columns on the right contain links to up to four reproductions of the photograph found on the Web, and page numbers of reproductions in five major books.
|Location and Date||Title||Description||Links||Page Numbers of Reproductions in Books|
|1972||Self-portrait at thirteen||"…She denies her face to the camera, so that we can only see her hair, but her left hand is holding a [shutter-release] cable linked to the camera."||view view view view||43||75||171|
|Providence, Rhode Island|
|1975–1976||[untitled]||Woodman "appears as Alice, in a Victorian-looking dress. She looks directly into the camera and gestures oddly with her hands and arms toward a door ajar…."(p. 17)||view view view view||63||33||54||137||52|
|1975–1976||[untitled]||"She kneels on a heavily framed mirror placed flat on the floor. Her head and upper body are in motion...."(p. 17)||view view view view||34||80||69||115|
|1975–1976||Space2||Woodman "physically encased herself in a museum vitrine... We see Woodman's left breast and thigh pressed against the glass as she squats. ... Her head, moreover, appears cut from her torso... While her right hand exerts pressure against the vitrine, her left seems to caress the form."||view view view view||42||73||72||118||21|
|1975–1976||Space2||Blurry figure at left of frame reaching down, generally in plane of photograph.||view view view view||75||120||186|
|1975–1976||Space2||"Blurred image of a woman shaking her head."||view view view view||76||121||210|
|1975–1978||[untitled]||"...A woman apparently dead at the lip of the ocean, reflected in the mirror of another woman whose own face is displaced by that very mirror."||view view view view||66||49|
|1976||[untitled]||Three nude women, "including Woodman, holding photographs of Woodman's face in front of their own, with a fourth portrait taped to the wall."(p. 26)||view view view view||67||51||101||25|
|1976||[untitled]||Woodman "sits on the edge of a white chair, wearing only a pair of black shoes. She is seen from the waist down, and before her on the floor is a shadowgraph, the negative impression her prone body has made in white powder."(p. 17)||view view view view||81||85||97||206|
|1976||[untitled]||"An empty room and a detached door balancing precariously against a wall."||view view view view||55||106|
|1976||Horizontale||"Woodman photographed herself cropped at the waist, her legs sprawling across the frame…. Bound tightly by shiny tape tied at the ankle, her flesh bulges around the ligatures, whilst with her right hand she holds a woolen glove over her sex."||view view view view||46||92||88||133||23|
|1976||House #3||"...A window lights a dark room. Woodman, huddled on the floor and smudged nearly out of existence, save for a poised, shod foot, fades away into the dark, decaying room."||view view view view||33||53||58||107||12|
|1976||House #4||"...She squeezes into a small triangular space formed by a fireplace surround which has come away from the wall, her legs splayed and her upper body blurred in movement…."||view view view view||33||52||59||107||11|
|1976||Then at one point I did not need to translate the notes; they went directly to my hands||"...Her nude figure crouched and bowing before a scarred wall, with a torn sheet of wallpaper covering her back like a shell, and her hands caressing the wall like a keyboard...."(p. 16)||view view view view||33||54||60||113||61|
|1976 March||Sloan||"Sloan appears as the artist’s doppelganger: reaching for a bright, sun-like orb painted on the wall of a snowcovered street…."||view view view view||45||78||143||49|
|1976 November||Polka Dots||"A young woman crouches in a crumbling interior... She is wearing a polka dotted dress, but the side zipper on the bodice is open and the bottom of her breast peeks out from under the hand that is tucked into her armpit. ... Directly above her head is a hole, registering on film as a black circle…."||view view view view||103||168|
|1976–1977||Polka Dots #5||Woodman, wearing a polka-dotted dress, bends to her right, back to a wall.||view view view view||47||52||102||34|
|1977||From Space2 series||"…Her legs, arm and belly – which is all that we see of her – are naked. She seems to be emerging from the wall, tearing the flowered wallpaper into large, uneven pieces as she achieves embodiment."||view view view view||33||55||61||109||10|
|1977||I could no longer play / I could not play by instinct||"…Self-portrait shows her dressed in a black brocade gown opened to reveal one breast. The upper edge of the frame cuts off her head at the chin…. From her right hand dangles a small knife… and from a cut under the line of her breast emerges a strip of photo-booth self-portraits, spattered with real or simulated blood."(p. 17)||view view view view||15||76||84||141||58|
|1977 Spring||On being an angel||"…She flings her arms back at the camera, so that her upturned breasts and open mouth, screaming in fright or celebration, – present an image of the liberated psyche in flight."(p. 125)||view view view view||49||79||82||125||38|
|1977 Spring||On being an angel #1||At the upper part of a mostly-dark frame, Woodman looks straight at the viewer, but her topless body is seemingly tilted up behind her head, as though she were flying upward toward the camera.||view view view view||77||83||124||39|
|Rome, 1977 September||From Angel Series||"In what looks like an attic in another old house, suspended white fabric looks like wings. Woodman jumps in front of the wings, dressed in a Victorian-style white petticoat with black tights. Her blurred body… picks up on the wing-like drapery of the hanging fabric and makes us imagine her flying away."||view view view view||101||152|
|Rome, 1977 September||From Angel Series||"A gloved hand holds a delicate, diaphanous piece of white fabric and shakes it. Its blur indicates that were the arm to drop it, the fabric might defy gravity and fly."||view view view view||40||78||100||153|
|Rome, 1977–1978||From Angel Series||"…She stands, with only her parted bare legs showing, with her feet planted at the ends of two roughly dug trenches, which reflect the legs…."||view view view view||43||103||159||75|
|Rome, 1977–1978||From Angel Series||"Sloan appears as the artist’s doppelganger... as an angelic figure hanging from the doorway of a Roman palazzo"||view view view view||27||174||212|
|Rome, 1977–1978||Yet another leaden sky||"[She is] pressing herself against a wall, a maleficent silhouette… her face covered with a white circle, the floor ritually chequered, while a tortoise crawls forward in a corner."(p. 10)||view view view view||20||147|
|Rome, 1977–1978||[untitled]||"...She has flattened herself, nude, against a wall, with dirt on her legs, as if she has undergone resurrection"||view view view view||20||57||113||154||69|
|Rome, 1977–1978||[untitled]||On the left, a nude woman sits on the ground in a pensive pose with her back against a wall; around the corner to the right, a calla lily is propped against the wall.||view view view view||21||65|
|Rome, 1977–1978||Eel Series||"…Her curved naked torso is stretched across a black-and-white patterned floor, enveloping a white bowl with a shiny skinned eel tightly coiled inside. (Woodman printed at least two versions of this image, with her body on either side of the eel.)"||view view view view||22||91||117||164, 165||94, 213|
|Antella, 1977–1978||[untitled]||A woman stands among small trees with a white sheet covering all but the bottom of her skirt and her lower legs.||view view view view||99||170||78|
|Rome, 1978||Self-Deceit #1||A nude woman on all fours turns a corner and looks at herself in a mirror in the middle of the frame.||view view view view||13||63||105||156||90|
|1979 Summer||[untitled]||"Woodman shows herself and her friend wearing old dresses whose prints are analogous to the plants in the surrounding landscape."||view view view view||41||150- 151||213|
|1979–1980||[untitled]||"Two fox furs are hanging next to each other. Behind the fox, in a corner of the room, the artist, naked, is reaching upward with her arms, her head slightly tilted to the left."(p. 19)||view view view view||87||123||187||118|
|1979–1980||[untitled]||"...A string of pearls around a naked woman's waist"(p. 19); the woman lies on a patterned cloth with her upper torso outside the frame to the right.||view view view view||10||84||120||206||144|
|1979||[untitled]||Two similar photographs "show the artist lying on a bench. A corset squeezes and disfigures her body. …tights [are] hanging from the wall."(p. 20) In one version, the head is at the left of the frame; in another version, the head at the right of the frame.||view view view view||8, 9||86||183||119|
|1979||[untitled]||"Woodman leans upon a chipped wall with her back facing the camera, exposing a skeletonlike pattern. …she puts on an old dress decorated with horizontal bands of a skeletal leaf pattern. … Her right hand holds a big fish skeleton against her bare back…."||view view view view||38||61||129||194|
|1980||[untitled]||"Sloan appears as the artist’s doppelganger… as a cascade of blond hair falling over the edge of a lion-footed bathtub."||view view view view||52||139||199||132|
|MacDowell Colony, Peterborough, New Hampshire|
|1980 Summer||[untitled]||Nude woman on a rock with arms outstretched and head blurred.||view view view view||36||141||223||106|
At RISD, Woodman borrowed a video camera and VTR(p. 27) and created videotapes related to her photographs in which she "methodically whitewashes her own naked body, for instance, or compares her torso to images of classical statuary." Some of these videos were displayed at the Helsinki City Art Museum in Finland and the Marian Goodman Gallery in New York in 2004; the Cisneros Fontanals Art Foundation in Miami in 2005; the Tate Modern in London in 2007–2008; and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 2011 (in an exhibition which will travel to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in 2012). In the 2011–2012 exhibitions, the selected video works, each 23 seconds to 3 minutes 15 seconds in length, were entitled "'Francesca' x 2," "Sculpture," "Corner," "Trace," and "Mask."
Woodman created a number of artist's books, such as Portrait of a Reputation, Quaderno dei Dettati e dei Temi (Notebook of Dictations and Compositions), Quaderno (also known as Quaderno Raffaello), Portraits Friends Equasions, and Angels, Calendar Notebook. However, the only artist's book containing Woodman's photographs that was published during her lifetime was Some Disordered Interior Geometries. Released in January 1981 shortly before Woodman's death, it is 24 pages in length and is based upon selected pages from an Italian geometry exercise book. On the pages, Woodman had attached 16 photographs and had added handwriting and white correction fluid. A study of the book notes that Woodman occasionally re-drew a form "for emphasis or delight." A reproduction of the book's original spreads shows purple-pink covers, pages which vary slightly in color, and traces of pink on several pages. Although the published version of the book has purple-pink covers, the interior pages are printed using only black, white, and shades of gray.
In 1999, a critic was of the opinion that Some Disordered Interior Geometries was "a distinctively bizarre book… a seemingly deranged miasma of mathematical formulae, photographs of herself and scrawled, snaking, handwritten notes." An acquaintance of Woodman wrote in 2000 that it "was a very peculiar little book indeed," with "a strangely ironic distance between the soft intimacy of the bodies in the photographs and the angularity of the geometric rules that covered the pages." A 2006 essay described the book as "a three-way game that plays the text and illustrations for an introduction to Euclid against Woodman's own text and diagrams, as well as the 'geometry' of her formal compositions," while a 2008 article found the book "poetic and humorous, analytical and reflexive." A 2010 article on Woodman called the book "original and enigmatic," and a 2010 review stated of the book that "we are the richer for it."
The book is rare; of the 12 libraries in the Online Computer Library Center database that own the book and that have online catalogs showing the book, all hold the book in special collections or similar locations.
Woodman had only a few exhibitions during her life, some of which have been described as "exhibitions in alternative spaces in New York and Rome." There were no known group or solo exhibitions of her work between 1981 and 1985, but numerous exhibitions each year since then. Among her major solo exhibitions were:
Besides catalogues of the aforementioned traveling solo exhibitions and catalogues of solo exhibitions that did not travel, notable books by and about Woodman include:
In 2000 an experimental video The Fancy, by Elisabeth Subrin, examined Woodman's life and work, "pos[ing] questions about biographical form, history and fantasy, female subjectivity, and issues of authorship and intellectual property." Reviewers noted that the video juxtaposes "formalism, biography, and psychoanalysis" and "hints at conspiracy, calling attention to the Woodman family's unwillingness to make the bulk of her body of photography available…."
A feature length documentary The Woodmans, directed by C. Scott Willis, was released theatrically by Lorber Films in 2010. The director "had unrestricted access to all of Francesca’s photographs, private diaries, and experimental videos". Although the film won "Best New York Documentary" at the Tribeca Film Festival, Woodman's parents decided not to attend the premiere. Reactions to the film have been largely favorable. On the film review site Rotten Tomatoes, 94% of 17 critics' reviews were positive, and 83% of 793 user ratings were positive. It was broadcast on the PBS series Independent Lens on December 22, 2011.
Public opinion has generally been favorable towards Woodman's work. At the 1998 exhibition in Paris, many people had "strong reactions" to her "interesting" photographs. A number of people have found Woodman's individual photos (for example "Self-portrait at 13") or her photography in general inspirational.
Among other factors, critics and historians have written that Woodman was influenced by the following literary genre, myth, artistic movement, and photographers: