Francesca Woodman

Untitled

1975–80

Medium
Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper
Dimensions
Image: 109 x 109 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
AR00359

Summary

Francesca Woodman stands at the far right edge of this black and white square photograph with her hands resting on her upper thighs so that she is slightly bent over. She wears long, horizontally-striped stockings that cover almost all of her legs. Aside from the stockings, she is naked. Her head and long hair are blurred in movement, and her hair obscures her left breast. To the left of Woodman hang a variety of dresses, one from a hanger on a horizontal beam with nails, and the others from tacks in a large panel on the wall. The wall is otherwise bare except for some cracks and areas of discolouration. Towards the bottom left of the image a wide-framed mirror – cropped half out of the image – sits on the floor against the wall and reflects several objects situated behind the camera.

The photograph was created while Woodman was a student at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) in Providence 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 fifteen centimetres in height or width.

Woodman’s slightly bent body makes it appear as though she hangs from the horizontal beam alongside the flat, lifeless dresses. This aspect of Woodman’s practice has been noted by the art historian Benjamin Buchloh, who writes that the artist’s photographs anticipate ‘the body’s translation from volume to flatness’ in photography’s creation of a two-dimensional product (Buchloh 2004, p.47). Images in which Woodman seems to blend with the wallpaper of the abandoned rooms where she often worked also exemplify such flattening (see, for example, Tate AR00358). In this image, the anticipation of flatness emerges in the likeness drawn between the artist’s body and her clothes.

Woodman is not lifeless in this photograph, however, but rather blurred in motion. Light falls from outside the frame onto Woodman’s whipping hair to highlight her activity. The graphic stripes of her stockings – almost like an optical illusion –emphasise this sense of vibrating energy. Stressing the impression of movement in Woodman’s work, Claire Raymond has complicated Buchloh’s position by arguing that the artist often pushes out from the wall and emerges ‘into dangerous, vivid motion’, as she does here (Raymond 2010, p.139). Indeed, Woodman’s motion in this image exemplifies her attempt to represent the body’s energy: ‘I show you what you do not see – the body’s inner force’ (quoted in Chandès 1998, p.10).

Further reading
Sloan Rankin, ‘Peach Mumble – Ideas Cooking’ in Hervé Chandès (ed.), Francesca Woodman, New York 1998.
Benjamin Buchloh, ‘Francesca Woodman: Performing the Photograph, Staging the Subject’, in Francesca Woodman: Photographs 1975–1980, exhibition catalogue, Marian Goodman Gallery, New York 2004.
Claire Raymond, Francesca Woodman and the Kantian Sublime, Surrey 2010.

John White
University of Edinburgh
January 2015

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

Online caption

Woodman has photographed herself at the very edge of the composition, emerging like a spirit from a shaft of light. The hanging clothes echo her body, seeming to hover with a life of their own. Alone and naked, Woodman appears vulnerable, underlined by the small and intimate format of the photograph. Her photographs explore issues of gender and self, looking at the representation of the body in relation to its surroundings. She usually puts herself in the frame, although these are not conventional self-portraits, since she is either partially hidden, or concealed by slow exposures that blur her moving figure into a surreal, ghostly presence. Woodman 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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