Francesca Woodman


Today is the anniversary of the loss of one of the world’s most sensitive female artists: Francesca Woodman died in 1981, at the age of just 22. In her short time on Earth, she was  a pioneer in the style of self portraiture that is so prevalent in female art today. She combined expression, discovery and a longing for disconnection from the body as a “self” – a concept that sticks at the forefront of art created around the female psyche. She used her body as a tool for discussion, exploration and distance from the inner self. This is especially relevant in a patriarchal world, where women are often the receptacles, or objects used to represent sexual fantasy – and not a whole lot else – in the mainstream.

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Born in 1958, the young photographer was born in Boulder, Colorado, but moved to study in Rhode Island at just 16, before ending up in New York. She started photographing at 14, and is best known for her black and white surrealist self portraits, leaving behind a prolific body of work with over 10,000 images, as well as her lesser known video archive. In blurred nudes, she ties together the dark with the dreamy, the disturbing with the intimate. To look at them now is to understand the internal struggles with eerie closeness – they are in many ways a premonition of her fate. You feel from her work that photography is  the tool she uses to cling to life. They ask you, unblinking, have you really understood me? Have you seen all the way inside of my mind?

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After being broadly rejected by magazines across New York, and being denied funding from a prestigious grant, the young woman grappling with severe depression tried and failed to end her life. She moved back in with her parents, in Rhode Island. When her relationship with her partner eventually disintegrated, she finally ended her life, falling from a loft apartment in New York. As a friend wrote after her death “There was therapy. Guard was let down.”

In a way she is the Sylvia Plath of photography – not because of how things ended – but because they were victims of their time in such an honest sense, and they had the same raw and simple question beaming from their work. How can I understand myself in a world that’s not ready for me?


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