Francesca Woodman by Keller, Woodman, Bryan-Wilson, & Blessing
Francesca Woodman has been recognized as a gifted photographer since the late 1980’s. Her style is very distinct and drew me in instantly the first time I laid eyes on her work. Since then I have been inspired by her images, simply by studying the way they look and her aesthetic. In reading Francesca Woodman by Corey Keller et al, I began to delve deeper into my understanding of how to read her photographs and the controversies behind doing so.
This book has an absolutely stunning collection of Woodman photographs within it and is of very high quality, I would recommend it to anyone who loves photography or just art in general. This book also contains essays written about the artist and her work that have informed me of the complexities behind her images.
One of the things that make Woodman’s work so special is her background. The fact that she did all of her work before the age of twenty-two and has such an extensive and well respected body of work is amazing. However, her age comes up a lot in arguments over her photos, some say she was a prodigy; others disregard her work because she was so young. The interpretation of her images is also tainted by her suicide. It is hard, even after reading this book, not to think about her death when looking at her photos. Perhaps they appear darker or more disturbing because the prior knowledge we have of her tragic end.
I have also learned that different audiences tend to place her work into different schools of thought or movements such as feminism, minimalism, surrealism, etc., but the truth is that without answers from the artist herself, we will never really know if her works were intended to be read in these ways. For this reason, I like to look at her photos without assigning any definite meaning to them, and appreciating them for the pure visual qualities and feelings I get from them.
One thing that inspired me when reading this book was finding connections to Woodman that I had never realized. For instance she grew up in Colorado and spent extensive time in Italy. I too am from Colorado and have a rich Italian heritage and have spent time there. I also found that she liked to work intuitively, not using fancy light meters or equipment, but instead using her gut to create a photograph. She also liked to present her photos in an honest way with stains and creases. In her studio, she lived with her prints and let them weather. I find that I like to work with simple equipment as well and I like the idea of letting your work age as you live and create around it. For some reason I feel a personal understanding of her, and perhaps we think in a similar way.
Francesca was also concerned with the use of space and architecture in her work as well as the female form. In her self-portraiture she captures her nude self in often angelic, innocent, or classic ways, and she was obviously very open about her nudity. During the course of this quarter, and looking at her work, I have become interested in creating honest self-portraits, however, I wish I felt as free with my body as she did. I find that the look of naked skin does something beautiful for a black and white photograph and I try to use it as much as possible.
I drew a lot of motivation from her work when I was taking photographs of myself for my bathroom assemblage. I tried to recreate, in my own way, her use of blurred movement by using an open shutter and long exposures. I also used the look of my own skin, like in many of her images, except without any real nudity.
I think the biggest idea that I have taken away from this reading is that an amateur can create astonishing work, as long as they have passion behind it. Woodman started photographing when she got her first camera at age thirteen and didn’t stop until her death. Even though she was never an expert and never claimed to have any mastery over the medium, her photographs are world-renowned and have made a huge impression on the art world. She inspires me to keep experimenting in photography, even if I am just an amateur.