ARTIST ROOMS artist essay
American photographer Francesca Woodman has eighteen rare vintage black and white photographs in the Artist Rooms display, from a collection once owned by the artist’s boyfriend. Woodman’s photographs exhibit many influences, from symbolism and surrealism to fashion photography and Baroque painting. They have a timeless quality that is ethereal and unique. The artist began taking photographs at the age of thirteen and though she was only twenty two when she took her own life, she left behind a substantial body of work.
Francesca Woodman’s photographs explore issues of gender and self, looking at the representation of the body in relation to its surroundings. She puts herself in the frame most often, although these are not conventional self-portraits as she is either partially hidden, or concealed by slow exposures that blur her moving figure into a ghostly presence. This underlying vulnerability is further emphasised by the small and intimate format of the photographs.
We often see her in otherwise deserted interior spaces, where her body seems to merge with its surroundings, covered by sections of peeling wallpaper, half hidden behind the flat plane of a door, or crouching over a mirror. Found objects and suggestive props are carefully placed to create unsettling, surreal or claustrophobic scenarios. Her photographs are produced in thematic series’, relating to specific props, places or situations.
Woodman was exposed to the symbolic work of Max Klinger whilst studying in Rome from 1977-78 and his influence can clearly be seen in many photographic series’, such as Eel Series, Roma (1977-78) and Angel Series, Roma (1977). In combining performance, play and self-exposure, Woodman’s photographs create extreme and often disturbing psychological states. In concealing or encrypting her subjects she reminds the viewer that photographs flatten and distort, never offering the whole truth about a subject.