Francesca Woodman

Untitled

1975–80

Artist
Francesca Woodman 1958–1981
Medium
Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper on ink on paper
Dimensions
Image: 143 x 144 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
AR00360

Not on display

Summary

This black and white photograph is attached to the centre of an off-white paper mount. Francesca Woodman appears along the right edge of the photograph standing with her back angled towards the camera. She wears a loose-fitting dress, and her hair is in a ponytail. Benjamin Moore, her boyfriend at the time, stands opposite her at a short distance in the middle of the image, also at an oblique angle to the camera. He wears a plain dress shirt tucked into a pair of dark trousers and holds in his left arm a tall, rectangular mirror that rests against his body. The mirror reflects light originating from outside the frame as well as what appears to be part of Woodman’s upper body in its lower right corner. Moore’s head is mostly cropped out of the image and he appears to be holding something long and wiry in his lowered right hand. Woodman and Moore stand in a nondescript room lit from the right so that they cast shadows against the wall behind Moore. Leaves and debris are visible on the floor. Above the photograph, written in ink on the paper mount, are the words: ‘me and Benjamin in May’. Typed below the photograph are the words: ‘photographs by francesca woodman / addison gallery, andover, mass. / october’. Woodman’s name is handwritten in slanted ink letters over her typed name.

This 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.

Moore appeared several times in Woodman’s work (see, for example, Tate AR00353 and AR00363). On multiple occasions Woodman also used her photographs with accompanying written text as messages for him (see Tate AR00347 and AR00356). Here, however, the written caption does no more than identify the image’s subjects and the month in which it was produced. The typed caption refers to Woodman’s first solo show, held in March 1976 at Addison Gallery in Andover, Massachusetts. Woodman was just eighteen years old at the time, and the gallery bought six of her photographs. The partial cropping of Woodman’s head and Moore’s compositional near-decapitation exemplify Woodman’s often violent use of cropping (see also Tate AR00355 and AR00362). As the art historian Harriet Riches has written, by ‘taking advantage of the camera’s ability to crop and frame the body’, Woodman ‘exploits a photographic language of violence, as she explores the medium’s proclivity for excising subjectivity from the world’ (Riches 2004, p.99).

Mirrors appear frequently in Woodman’s work (see, for example, Tate AR00347 and AR00355). The curator Harm Lux has argued, however, that the mirror does not serve a narcissistic purpose in Woodman’s oeuvre. Rather, mirrors often appear to be ‘mocking the voyeurist [sic] viewer’ by rarely reflecting Woodman very fully or clearly (Lux 1992, p.18). Here the mirror does just that. Although Woodman angles her head even further away from the camera than the rest of her body, the mirror at first seems to offer a glimpse of either her or Moore’s cropped and obscured face. However, closer analysis reveals no definite details in the dark, hazy shape seen in the mirror.

Further reading
Harm Lux, Francesca Woodman: Photographic Works, exhibition catalogue, Shedhalle, Zürich 1992.
Sloan Rankin, ‘Peach Mumble – Ideas Cooking’ in Hervé Chandès (ed.), Francesca Woodman, New York 1998.
Harriet Riches, ‘A Disappearing Act: Francesca Woodman’s Portrait of a Reputation’, Oxford Art Journal, vol.27, no.1, 2004, pp.97–113.

John White
University of Edinburgh
February 2015

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

Online caption

The inscription above the photograph reads ‘Me and Benjamin in May’. Benjamin P Moore was Woodman’s boyfriend, to whom this photograph was given as a gift. Both appear cropped and obscured in the image. Woodman would often paste photographs on to paper and in journals as works in progress, surrounded by expressive notes. She had her first solo show with Addison Gallery, Andover in March 1976, cited in the text below the photograph, and the Gallery subsequently bought six of her photographs, when she was just eighteen years old. Her photographs are not conventional portraits, but explore issues of gender and self, looking at the representation of the body in relation to its surroundings.

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