In this black and white square-format photograph the artist stands in the centre of the image wearing a patterned, long-sleeved, knee-length dress and black knee-high boots. She occupies an otherwise empty space in the corner of a room, standing near the back wall, which is bare and painted white. A dark skirting board runs along the base of the wall where it meets the lighter grey concrete floor. The adjacent wall can be seen on the far right of the image and features a window through which light enters the room, falling over the left side of Woodman’s body, leaving her right side in shadow. Woodman stands with her feet planted hip-width apart and is bent slightly forwards towards the camera with her arms and hands out in front of her. Her face, which appears to look down towards the floor, is obscured by her hair, which is blurred as though she is shaking her head.
This photograph was taken in 1976 in Woodman’s studio, an unheated room above a dry goods store, Pilgrim Mills, in Providence, Rhode Island. During this time Woodman was a student at the Rhode Island School of Design, where she studied between 1975 and 1977 before moving to Rome with the school’s honours programme, which she completed in 1978. In this image Woodman experimented with exposure time by setting her camera on a slow shutter speed, and manipulated the light in order to capture the movement of her body, which blurred her hands and face.
This photograph is part of a series titled Space². Woodman often worked in series, presenting single images under a common title. There are seven photographs in this series, another of which is in the ARTIST ROOMS collection (Tate AR00350). Many of the photographs she took between 1975 and 1978 fulfilled assignments for college. Art historian Rosalind Krauss has suggested that the Space² series corresponded to one such assignment, speculating that Woodman responded to a brief along the lines of ‘Display a particular space by emphasising its character, its geometrics, for example’ (Krauss 2000, p.162). All the images that constitute the Space² series feature the artist’s body in a similar interior space. For this particular image she blurred and distorted her body, while in others she encased herself in glass display cabinets. The title Space² indicates a concern not only with the dimensions of space but also with the way in which space is flattened by photography.
Feminist scholar Peggy Phelan has noted that Woodman’s refusal to be still is an essential aspect of her self-portraits, as is evident in this image (Phelan 2002, p.985). The movement captured is intentional; Woodman wanted to ‘show you what you do not see – the body’s inner force’ (Woodman quoted in Jui-Ch’i Liu 2004, p.28). Capturing the physicality of the body in motion, the blurs dissolve corporeal boundaries and, according to the critic Jui-Ch’i Liu, register Woodman’s refusal ‘to allow her body to be defined by the viewer’ (Jui-Ch’i Liu 2004, p.28).
The relationship between figure and space explored in this image was further investigated by Woodman on the contact sheet from this photography session, over which she drew extra details on the images with a black marker pen. On this particular image she drew two short, straight lines; one appears to pass behind her feet and the other above her head. The writer Isabella Pedicini has noted that on the Space² proofs Woodman ‘moves through the space again and again, crossing it, jumping over invisible barriers that she later draws in by hand with a black pen. In this way she maps out a space which is mental, imaginary, and constructed by the movement of her own body’ (Pedicini 2012, p.72). Woodman was thoughtful and deliberate in conceptualising her images and used the drawn-on contact sheets during the editing process to identify which photographs to develop. In this way the contact sheet can be seen as a working tool manipulated to produce the final photographic image.
Peggy Phelan, ‘Francesca Woodman’s Photography: Death and the Image One More Time’, Signs, vol.27, no.4, Summer 2002, pp.979–1004.
Jui-Ch’i Liu, ‘Francesca Woodman’s Self-Images: Transforming Bodies in the Space of Femininity’, Woman’s Art Journal, vol.25, no.1, Spring–Summer 2004, pp.26–31.
Isabella Pedicini, Francesca Woodman: The Roman Years Between Skin and Film, Rome 2012.
Susan Mc Ateer
The University of Edinburgh
The University of Edinburgh is a research partner of ARTIST ROOMS.