In this black and white square photograph a dark, tall door – free from its frame – is balanced precariously, with one of its shorter sides against a wall and its opposite two corners resting one on the ground and the other almost touching an adjacent wall. The door creates a strong diagonal between the lower right and upper left corners of the image. Underneath the door is the photographer Francesca Woodman, only her lower half visible. She lies on her left side directly on the floor with her knees bent. The right side of her legs catches the light from a window above and to the right of the door. Her backside is in shadow, and her right foot is blurred. The space is otherwise bare, aside from bits of rubble on the wooden floorboards and a pipe that runs vertically along much of the left edge of the image.
The photograph was created while Woodman was a student at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) in Providence, USA from 1975 to 1978. At RISD Woodman was a fiercely dedicated and independent student who devoted herself exhaustively to her work. She set up a studio and living space in the shabby rooms of a former dry goods store, and frequently worked in nearby abandoned houses and other rundown spaces. This work features Woodman prominently as its subject. When asked by her roommate and close friend Sloan Rankin why she was so often the subject of her own photographs, Woodman replied: ‘It’s a matter of convenience, I’m always available’ (quoted in Rankin 1998, p.35). This photograph is also notably small-scale. Woodman’s square photographs rarely measure more than 150 mm in height or width.
Cultural theorist Mieke Bal argues that Woodman’s photographs are not snapshots because the artist was not interested in fixing moments in time. Rather, Woodman was interested in ‘un-fixing’ the subjects of her photographs, typically herself (for another example see Tate AR00352, quoted in Bal 2009, p.136). As Bal points out, Woodman is almost always physically present in her photographs but never quite visible or ‘fixed’ (see Bal 2009, p.132). In this case, the door bisects Woodman’s body and renders its lower half almost inhuman in appearance upon first glance. Woodman’s right foot is the most illuminated part of her visible body, but it is blurred by motion.
In contrast to the spare and shabby room, Woodman’s blurred foot animates her and reminds viewers that, although she is not recognisable, the depicted subject is also the photograph’s living creator. But the blur also serves, as Bal has said of Woodman’s photographs in general, to obscure Woodman even as she exposes herself (Bal 2009, p.137). Although her lower body is nude, Woodman has hidden any identifying body features from view and made the visible part of her body anonymous. A line of light leads down the side of her leg to a fully-illuminated foot, but even this is obscured by movement. To borrow Bal’s words, this work represents a still image that will not stand still (Bal 2009, p.138).
Sloan Rankin, ‘Peach Mumble – Ideas Cooking’, in Hervé Chandès (ed.), Francesca Woodman, New York 1998, pp.33–7.
Mieke Bal, ‘Marcel & Me: Woodman through Proust’, in Isabel Tejeda (ed.), Francesca Woodman: Retrospective, exhibition catalogue, Espacio AV, Murcia 2009, pp.114–41.
Cory Keller (ed.), Francesca Woodman, exhibition catalogue, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco 2012, reproduced p.19.
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