Francesca Woodman

Untitled, Providence, Rhode Island


Not on display

Francesca Woodman 1958–1981
Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper and ink
Image: 144 × 146 mm
frame: 458 × 402 × 20 mm
ARTIST ROOMS Tate and National Galleries of Scotland
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


This square black and white photograph is attached to the top right corner of an off-white paper mount. In the photograph, Francesca Woodman leans sharply to her right beneath a low ceiling. She wears a pale polka-dotted dress and dark shoes, and her right arm comes up to touch the top of her head. She looks in the direction of the camera, but her facial features as well as other parts of her body are blurred. She stands just inside the frontal opening of a small brick structure. Many of the bricks appear to be aged or stained. Around the structure’s exterior are pipes, wiring and other industrial materials. A stack of bricks in the foreground dominates much of the photograph’s left side, and the entire image seems tilted slightly to the left. Below the photograph, on the off-white paper mount, Woodman has written in blue ink: ‘Bunny bun I’m in the photolab come fetch me if the mood or a rock should strike you’.

This 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.

Notes and phrases are scrawled below many of Woodman’s photographs on their paper mounts. As with Untitled, Providence, Rhode Island 1975–6 (Tate AR00347), Woodman gave this photograph to her then-boyfriend Benjamin Moore, who is presumably being addressed as ‘bunny bun’. The note’s suggestion that she will not be leaving the ‘photolab’ any time soon attests to the ferocious work ethic that she possessed as a student. When exhibited, both image and text are framed for display.

Art historian Abigail Solomon-Godeau considers certain of Woodman’s photographs – those in which the artist obscures herself in abandoned houses (see, for example, Tate AR00357) – as commentaries on the imprisoning and consuming nature of women’s historical relegation by men to the realm of domestic spaces (see Solomon-Godeau 1991, p.252). One could read this photograph in a similar manner. The apparent disarray of the bits of brick and precarious objects below Woodman’s feet suggest that she was seeking a typically abandoned space in which to work. Rather than in a house, however, the artist appears to be standing here within some sort of brick kiln or oven.

The dark soot that mars the exterior of the structure lends it a menacing appearance, especially in relation to Woodman within. The sharply bent posture that the space forces her to adopt makes it seem as though Woodman is in the process of being swallowed by the building. Her blurred face suggests movement and her contorted body a sense of struggle, while the slight tilt of the camera imbues the image with a feeling of unease.

Further reading
Abigail Solomon-Godeau, Photography at the Dock, Minneapolis 1991.
Sloan Rankin, ‘Peach Mumble – Ideas Cooking’, in Hervé Chandès (ed.), Francesca Woodman, New York 1998, pp.33–7.

John White
The University of Edinburgh
November 2014

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

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Online caption

‘Bunny bun I’m in the photolab come fetch me if the mood or a rock should strike you’ reads the inscription below the photograph. Given as a gift to her boyfriend, this may have been a private message between the two. Woodman would often paste photographs on to paper and in journals as works in progress, surrounded by expressive, personal notes. 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. This underlying fragility is emphasised by the small and intimate format of the photographs.

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