Francesca Woodman

Italy, May 1977 - August 1978

1977–8

Medium
Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper
Dimensions
Image: 143 x 158 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
AR00353

Summary

This black and white square-format portrait depicts the artist Francesca Woodman and her boyfriend, Benjamin P. Moore. The couple sit in front of a wall in shadow, with only their head and shoulders in the frame. Moore is positioned to the left of the composition, leaving a narrow empty space at the side of the image, while Woodman is positioned slightly behind his shoulder to the right with her left shoulder cut out of the frame. Moore wears a sleeveless white vest and his dark hair is slicked back. The artist’s hair is loosely piled on her head and she wears a patterned shirt, or possibly dress, with a V-shaped neckline. Both Woodman’s and Moore’s faces are bathed in light on their right, and obscured by dark shadow on the left. The image has a rough white border which is particularly distressed along the bottom of the image.

This photograph was taken in Rome between 1977 and 1978. Woodman was a student at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) between 1975 and 1977 before moving to Rome with the school’s honours programme, which she completed in 1978. Moore was her boyfriend at the time and was also a student at RISD. The couple began dating in 1975 and were together for approximately five years. Woodman’s classmate and close friend Sloan Rankin has said that Moore was the photographer’s ‘first caring love’ (The Woodmans, dir. by Scott Willis, 2010). The artist photographed Moore on numerous occasions and she sometimes included herself in the image, as here. In this image the couple’s casual attire and bodily proximity suggest intimacy, while the dark shadows create a sense of foreboding. Other images of Moore in the ARTIST ROOMS collection include an annotated photograph of Moore and Woodman (Untitled 1975–80, Tate AR00360) and a full-length solo portrait of Moore (Untitled 1975–80, Tate AR00363). All of the images of Moore have an intimate quality, suggesting Woodman’s willingness to make her personal life the subject of her art. He also featured in some of the films Woodman recorded, but never exhibited, including Spitting Image c.1976–8 (private collection).

Woodman had been to Italy on numerous occasions with her family as a child. Her parents owned a house in Tuscany, which they visited during summer holidays. Despite Woodman’s familiarity with the country, writer Isabella Pedicini has noted that during the artist’s time in Italy as a student ‘the symbolist tendencies that marked her photographs from Boulder and Providence gave way to a photography which was expertly organised in space and composed by a number of small elements framed in perspective’ (Pedicini 2012, p.59). This organisation is evident in the close framing and considered use of light and shadow in the composition of this portrait. In other photographs taken at this time (see, for example, Eel Series, Roma, May 1977–August 1978 Tate AR00348) the artist’s carefully considered use of light and composition is evident in her bold pose, and use of cropping and chiaroscuro. Author and feminist scholar Peggy Phelan has commented that Woodman’s compositional style ‘repeatedly expresses her dual desire to inhabit and to escape the limit of the visible’ (Phelan 2002, p.993). This duality is evident in the contrast between the artist’s direct gaze toward the camera and her position at the edge of the frame with her face obscured by the light. She seems to retreat into the background as Moore occupies the foreground. In the majority of Woodman’s solo self-portraits, or images with friends, she experiments with more extreme obstructions, from mirrors to wallpaper and the blurring resulting from movement in front of the lens.

This image, along with the seventeen other works by Woodman in the ARTIST ROOMS collection, originally belonged to Benjamin P. Moore. Moore sold the photographs to Jefferey Frankel, an international macroeconomist. As a friend of Anthony d’Offay, Frankel approached the collector who acquired the images, allowing them subsequently to become part of the ARTIST ROOMS collection.

Further reading
Peggy Phelan, ‘Francesca Woodman’s Photography: Death and the Image One More Time’, Signs, vol.27, no.4, Summer 2002, pp.979–1004.
Isabella Pedicini, Francesca Woodman: The Roman Years: Between Skin and Film, Rome 2012.

Susan Mc Ateer
The University of Edinburgh
December 2013

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

Online caption

Woodman’s collection of photographs in ARTIST ROOMS originally belonged to her boyfriend, Benjamin P Moore, who appears alongside her in this double portrait. Woodman met Moore while she was a student at the Rhode Island School of Design, and he now has an established reputation as a glass designer in America. This photograph was taken while Woodman was an exchange student in Rome between 1977 and 1978. This year of study abroad was an important period of self-recognition for the artist and she produced a substantial body of work there. She found an environment rich in classicism and decay and took most of her photographs in an abandoned factory, to creating a surreal, timeless atmosphere. Woodman uses strong lighting in this particular work to produce an intense psychological drama.