Negotiated Portfolio Research: Francesca Woodman

Any artist who decides, for one reason or another, to take their own life raises immediate interest from their ‘readers’ and observers world-wide. It seems to be an instantaneous reaction to begin picking apart their work and attempting to reveal any hidden clues. Slight hints that would suggest they were giving off SOS signals. Merely having an intuitive nature seems reason enough to recreate situations or theories within the work of photographers like Francesca Woodman. It must make some of us wonder: is it necessary? Can we not just enjoy the work that was left and have their death a reminder of life’s delicateness?

At twenty-two, I share some common grounds with Francesca Woodman. I have an interest in photography, I practice it and leave my own work open to criticism and appreciation. Our age (hers frozen by her tragic suicide) and our common interest gives me reason enough to want to know more about her. It also makes me look at her work, dark and eery enough as it is, in a different and even darker light. It makes me wonder what her work suggests in terms of inspiring other young female photographers: what does it say about female nudity and the representation of death through it? How is it that we can look at images that hint towards suicide and obvious psychological suffering as art and tragedy?

My interest in her work, however is continuing to grow. I’ve decided to pursue a feature idea about the less picked-apart aspect of Woodman’s life.

Copyright Francesca Woodman: Untitled (1975-80)

In the 1970s, Francesca was developing her talent of reproducing situations often created in decrepit buildings and focusing on the naked, female form. Many of those who had in fact picked apart her work regard it as representations of gender and the self. With the models’ (sometimes Francesca’s) faces often obscured by fast movement, the unnatural images are suggested to particularly focus on feminism and surrealism. The focus on the ghostly effects Francesca worked hard to create are currently being praised and purposely revisited by the Tate. Her online showcase of some of her work can be viewed here in her Artist Room.

Woodman’s relation to my own work stems from having the coincidental luck of knowing Sloan Keck, a name often linked with her work. Sloan was one of Francesca’s closest friends after they met on the first day of college at Rhode Island School of Design. As few knew, Sloan was often asked to either be one of the models in Francesca’s photographs or in fact press the shutter for Francesca if creating a self-portrait. Sloan was devastated to lose a friendship that had continued to grow after six years. Now, a few decades after Francesca’s work (still raw with emotion), Francesca has set new and ethereal boundaries for up and coming female photographers and artists alike.

“I’d rather die young leaving various accomplishments, some work, my friendship with you…” Copyright of Francesca Woodman: Untitled (1975-80)

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