Francesca Woodman

From Angel Series, Roma, September 1977

1977

Artist
Francesca Woodman 1958–1981
Medium
Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper
Dimensions
Image: 93 x 93 mm
Acquisition
ARTIST ROOMS Acquired jointly with the National Galleries of Scotland through The d'Offay Donation with assistance from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Art Fund 2008
Reference
AR00354

Not on display

Summary

The black and white photograph From Angel Series, Roma, September 1977 1977 depicts the interior of a rundown building, with a doorframe taking up a large portion of the image. Through the doorframe can be seen two figures. The figure to the left stands behind a large crumpled sheet of paper, with only their feet and a very faint impression of their body visible. The shape is blurred with movement. The second figure, on the right-hand side, appears to be crouched behind a small rectangular form (perhaps a wooden board or block), with only a hand visible from the left side. A bright light from the left illuminates the otherwise empty space.

Woodman produced this image from her Angel Series during a year spent abroad in Rome from 1977 to 1978, after gaining a scholarship from the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). In several other photographs in the Angel Series (reproduced Townsend 2006, pp.152–3, 159), Woodman takes on the form of the ‘angel’ more explicitly, making wings out of white sheets. Art historian Rosalind Krauss has suggested that the works produced during Woodman’s time at RISD were responses to studio assignments posed by university lecturers, with the Angel Series responding to a brief ‘to photograph something that doesn’t exist’ (Krauss 2000, p.162). Following such instructions, Woodman’s preparatory method was meticulous, as she invested time in making sketches of the layout of her photographic compositions before approaching the camera. The most recognisable trait of her practice, as art historian Harriet Riches notes, was the way ‘Woodman used herself to address the technical problems of focus, the creativity of composition or the spaces created through depth of field’ (Riches 2011, p.72). She preferred long, single exposures that simultaneously capture great surface and texture detail, and also allowed the blurring and obscuring of her subjects through movement. Therefore, despite her planning, Woodman ultimately left the final composition to chance. For her Angel Series, looking towards the theme of angelic spectral figures and the transitioning of states, this approach lent itself very well.

In this particular image a recognisable domestic space frames an unsettling staging of figures and objects, just out of reach beyond the doorframe. The viewer is privy to the scene, but excluded from observing the entire interior and its inhabitants. At first glance the rectangular form appears as another doorway, confusing the viewer’s immediate perception of the scene, in which normal objects disrupt the space and conceal the figures with an almost sculptural quality. As art historian Abigail Solomon-Godeau has noted, ‘the relationship constructed [in the photographer’s work] is not between the real woman and her image, but between the spectator and two equally unreal images’ (Abigail Solomon-Godeau, Photography at the Dock, Minneapolis 1991, p.255). Typical of Woodman's work, the still regularity of the board sits in contrast to the messiness of the crumpled paper, heightening the oppositionality of these two points of focus, as seen in Space², Providence, Rhode Island, 1975–1978 (Tate AR00350). It is therefore the single hand that becomes the focal point of the image: the dark human shape against the bright white of the rectangular form provides a sense of the uncanny.

The eighteen photographs in the ARTIST ROOMS collection by Woodman were originally owned by Benjamin P. Moore, her boyfriend of the time, who is pictured in Untitled 1975–80 (Tate AR00363) and alongside Woodman in Italy May 1977–August 1978 1977–8 (Tate AR00353).

Further reading
Rosalind Krauss, ‘Francesca Woodman: Problem Sets’, in Bachelors, Cambridge, MA 2000, pp.161–79.
Chris Townsend, Francesca Woodman: Scattered in Space and Time, London 2006.
Harriet Riches, ‘Girlish Games: Playfulness and “Drawingness” in the work of Francesca Woodman and Lucey Gunning’, in Catherine Grant and Lori Waxman (eds.), Girls! Girls! Girls! in Contemporary Art, Bristol 2011, pp.65–86.

Hayley Gault
University of Edinburgh
October 2015

The University of Edinburgh is a research partner of ARTIST ROOMS.

Online caption

In this photograph the artist has dressed herself in large crumpled sheets of paper, creating a ghostly form. This is one of a series of similar works by Woodman produced between 1977 and 1978 exploring the theme of angels, in which prolonged exposure is used to create a spectral blur. Taken in a deserted factory in Rome, Woodman uses abandoned debris to create an ethereal, mystical image in the tradition of Surrealism. The mythological theme of the angel is popular with Woodman and suggests a link with American fashion photographer Deborah Turbeville (born 1938). In the photograph she uses a mirror as a prop – it becomes a symbol of artistic self-reflexivity, reflecting the ‘eye’ of the camera back upon itself.

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