Francesca Woodman (1958-1981)
Francesca Woodman’s work, and life, is often cast with an air of melancholy. Her work depicting black and white figures, usually herself, blurred and hidden amongst their surroundings, bring forth epithets such as ‘haunting’ or ‘ghostly’. With her untimely death aged just 22, through suicide, it is easy to look at her work and only get a sense of tragedy.
Despite the haunting quality of her work, with Francesca herself referring to some of her photographs as ‘ghost pictures’ due to her use of long exposure and slow shutter speeds that created a blurring effect, there are much broader concepts to discover. Her work encompasses explorations of the self, gender, identity and body image. She was a pioneer of self-portraiture in particular, inspiring women to explore their own identity, body and sexuality within their own work.
Born in Denver, Colorado in 1958, Francesca began experimenting with her style of self-portraiture at 13. Within her first self-portrait, everything which is indicative of her work can be found within the image – blurring, her face hidden (in this case by a thick wall of hair), and a surreal aspect, created by her surroundings and the angle at which she took the image. Beginning her journey in photography so young led to her having a very focussed approach to her work by the time she began studying at Rhode Island School of Design, in 1975. A fellow RSID student, George Lange, created images with Francesca and paints a very different picture of the artist “…we used to do all these silly things…That was my relationship with her. She wasn’t this tortured soul – I didn’t know that person.” (Dazed Digital, 2020)
Her struggles with depression and her tragic death cannot be denied but her work, and her life, had so much more everlasting meaning.
By Becky Handley