Francesca Woodman

Untitled

1975–80

Artist
Francesca Woodman 1958–1981
Medium
Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper
Dimensions
Image: 152 x 152 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
AR00363

Not on display

Summary

Untitled 1975–80 is a black and white photograph taken by Francesca Woodman of her boyfriend at the time, Benjamin P. Moore. The interior scene is framed by an open door to the left. On the far wall is a small cupboard with open doors and, below it, a small upright piano with its front section missing. The lid of the piano is left ajar and its manufacturer name is just visible. Moore stands to the right of the cupboard and piano, towards the back of the room. He wears a long black coat and turns his head to look directly at the camera, with his body facing to the right. Natural light bathes the back of the scene leaving him and the interior in dark shadow.

Woodman probably took this photograph while at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), which she attended between 1975 and 1978. She often took her photographs in abandoned factories and houses surrounding the school, as well as setting up her own living space and studio in an old dry goods store. Art historian Harriet Riches notes how these backdrops mirrored Woodman’s artistic practice¿: ‘not the spotless clinical space of the photographic studio, Woodman's own studio was a messy domestic space that also housed the detritus of her life’ (Riches 2011, p.73). Such a description is exemplified by photographs such as Untitled 1975–80. With the cupboard and piano that take up a large part of this portrait, it is evident that evocative interiors and props were an important part of the way that Woodman worked.

In this portrait the way in which the light falls gives Moore a concrete outline while obscuring his facial features, giving him a spectral quality. Woodman uses the contrast of light and dark both stylistically and conceptually, through her near exclusive black and white photography and use of natural light and shade. In this image, the use of black and white, coupled with Moore’s somewhat old-fashioned attire, renders the time period in which the image was taken indefinable. Art historian Abigail Solomon-Godeau notes that ‘reference to mass culture or to advertising is altogether absent’ in Woodman’s work, so that her photographs sit outside a fixed time period (Solomon-Godeau 1991, p.242). This informs the overall uncanny timelessness of the photograph: Moore embodies the character of a gothic villain or a Victorian gentleman more than that of a student of the 1970s.

Woodman had a particular interest in fashion photography, and intended to pursue a career in it after graduation, before her untimely death at the age of twenty-two. She was particularly fascinated by the works of American fashion photographer Deborah Turbeville (born 1932), as well as indulging a hobby for collecting items of vintage clothing and various props from thrift stores. Throughout her work the notion of being dressed (in her typical Victorian style) and undressed is consistently at play. These interests can be seen to actively inform works such as Untitled 1975–80 (Tate AR00359) and Untitled 1975–80 (Tate AR00351). This influence is also visible in this photograph, as the heavy black coat becomes the most distinguishable element of Moore's figure, as well as his stance, as he looks directly at the camera as if looking out from the pages of a fashion magazine.

The eighteen photographs in the ARTIST ROOMS collection were originally owned by Moore, who is also pictured alongside Woodman in Italy May 1977–August 1978 1977–8 (Tate AR00353).

Further reading
Abigail Solomon-Godeau, Photography at the Dock, Minneapolis 1991.
Catherine de Zergher (ed.), Inside the Visible: An Elliptical Traverse of 20th Century Art In, Of and From the Feminine, Cambridge, Massachusetts 1996.
Harriet Riches, ‘Girlish Games: Playfulness and “Drawingness” in the work of Francesca Woodman and Lucey Gunning’, in Catherine Grant and Lori Waxman (eds.), Girls! Girls! Girls! in Contemporary Art, Bristol 2011, pp.63–86.

Hayley Gault
University of Edinburgh
November 2015

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

Online caption

The subject of this portrait was Woodman’s boyfriend, Benjamin P Moore, who once owned the photographs in the ARTIST ROOMS Collection. Woodman met Moore while a student at the Rhode Island School of Design, and he now has an established reputation as a glass designer in America. He can also be seen, alongside Woodman, in the photograph 'Italy, May 1977 – August 1978'. Woodman’s photographs explore issues of gender and self, looking at the representation of the body in relation to its surroundings. These are not conventional portraits, as her sitters appear partially hidden or concealed by slow exposures that blur them into a surreal, ghostly presence. This underlying fragility is emphasised by the small and intimate format of the photographs.

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