Sunday 25 November 2012

Francesca Woodman - the middle years

This post on Francesca Woodman's art is a continuation of  a previous one and is best viewed in conjunction with the one before.

Italy, 1977-78

Following two years of regular coursework at University, Woodman elected to spend her junior year in Rome as part of the programme offered by the University to juniors who were selected for their academic excellence, to spend the year working largely independently under minimal supervision. It was a transformative period for Woodman: she met a group of Italian artists and was the sole photographer and only American to be included in an exhibition of five young artists at the Ugo Ferranti Gallery. It was during this time that Woodman encountered for the first time surrealist texts whose ideas had indirectly influenced her work, but to which she now had direct and powerful exposure.


Woodman's use of nudity is more complex than it might at first seem, oscillating between a position of sexuality and one of innocence, from fleshy embodiedness and transcendent otherworldliness.


From Fish Calendar - 6 Days




The exploration of photographic temporality, the body's relationship to space and architecture are themes that keep recurring in her work.

The motion-blurred pictures she describes as 'ghost pictures' evoke the spirit photographs made in the 19th and early 20th centuries to provide photographic proof of life after death. In order to achieve this she had to invent an iconography of the invisible: how does one depict something, a body, that cannot be seen? It is a challenge made all the more acute by her use of photography, a representational medium which is rooted in the real world.


Untitled from Angels Series

Untitled, from Angels Series


As for her famous 'blur', Krauss defines this as the 'transgression of boundaries' of both mediums and styles.




Self-Deceit, no. 3

Self-Deceit, no. 4

Self-deceit, no. 5

Woodman worked serially on particular formal photographic problems such as 'space', or 'depth of field'. This modernist approach understands photography to comprise a set of formal qualities that are specific to the medium.  She repeatedly returned to a theme over and over again, each time from a new angle.

Self-deceit, no. 6

Self-Deceit, no. 7

Untitled, from Eel Series

Several Cloudy Days

Art historian George Baker calls her a 'photographer's photographer'.
'What might make Woodman's work unique, a complete transformation of the context out of which she emerges, is that her reading of Minimalism's engagement with space flips it into an excessive, desperate mode rather than a euphoria of bodily experience. That one can know oneself, that one is constituted in a constant, mobile transformation of one's own sensory experience of space and interaction with objects: this is the utopian project of phenomenology and Minimalism ... For Woodman to transform that project to a photographic as opposed to sculptural model is a major step'.

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