A friend and photographer shared Francesca Woodman’s work with me a year ago this past December. I was not familiar with her art at the time but immediately resonated with her and her story. Woodman is an influential photographer whose need to photograph herself seemed to be the psychological equivalent of what poetry meant for Anne Sexton. Not only did Woodman photograph herself, she often photographed other women, usually blurring their faces. We had the self confessional photography of Nan Goldin; who photographed obsession and dependency and Cindy Sherman’s conceptual self portraiture. Then there was Francesca Woodman.
Many photographers are cool and completely distant from their work. What deeply resonated for me was Woodman’s complete and utter honesty of herself, her feelings and emotions. Her rawness is a breath of fresh air. She explored herself and her body in abandoned builidings, as well as in New York, Rome and Rhode Island, sometimes adding her feelings in words, onto the prints.
Her haunting photographs are as fresh today as when she made them 30 years ago. Woodman’s photos ache with tenderness, isolation, loneliness, pain and the sheer genius of her compulsive nature and intense relationship with her camera. She was concerned with femininity and female subjectivity. Her deeply personal work leaves me with many questions which is what a great photograph does. Her photos have left an indelible image on my mind and in my heart.
Woodman photographed herself from the age of 13 until her suicide at 22. She was depressed due to her work not being taken seriously and after a broken relationship with her boyfriend, she survived a suicide attempt in late 1980. In January 1981, after living with her parents in Manhattan, she jumped out of a loft window to her death. I am reminded of Bernie Taupin, Elton John’s lyricist’s words from Razor Face off the Madman Across the Water album; (yes, i still call them albums)
” Oh, it must be hard for the likes of you to get by
in a world that you just can’t see through and it looks so cold,
How does it feel to know you can’t go home.”
Francesca Woodman’s exhibit is at SFMOMA until February 20, 2012: