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Friday, 11 February 2011


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Mike, you couldn't have said it better about the trailer. It certainly piques the interest to see more of her work.


That 25% of 800 sounds like a pretty good percentage of keepers.

Or is that 25% of 800 images she intended to have exhibited?

amazing work. tragic story. Francesca photography forecast her tragic ending.

Mike, I first saw Francesca Woodman’s work in an exhibit in Scotland, maybe 10 years ago. I had never even heard of this photographer who had lived a few blocks from me in the Village. I was blown away. Conceptual photography, where the photograph comes as much from your mind as seeing the beauty of something in front of you, is very tough to do well. Witness the huge amount of rather bad conceptual photography in galleries today. Most of us get by on what is in front of us, not our brains.

I immediately added her to my list of absolutely exceptional conceptual photographers - David Hockney, Jerry Uelsmann and Francesca Woodman. Thank you for letting us know about Gumport’s article. Woodman is one incredible photographer.


I certainly learned something new today.

Thanks Mike

The picture shown gives me absolutely nothing ...

I bought Townshend's book a couple of years ago. The photographs are brilliant existential comments about life from the artist's perspective. It is impossible to separate the art from the artist and I don't mean just in a technical way. Few artists and fewer photographers marry the product, embedded philosophy and personal so well - think Albert Camus, think Janis Joplin.... Townsend fails in his biography, at least to my mind, by trying too strongly to impose an academic thesis on her work (i.e., that the primary aim of her photos was to comment on photography). But this really doesn't matter, the photos tell the tale.

Lot's of Francesca Woodman's photo's on Google Images.
Fantastic photography.

Bumped into this web site -- lots of photographers represented. Including Francesca Woodman.



Were Lartigue and Brett Weston the only photo-prodigies?

Some wonderful images....and a tragic story.

I feel fortunate to have discovered Francesca Woodman's work without prior knowledge of her death. I searched for and found several images of hers that really spoke to me; it came as a shock to learn that she had died almost thirty years earlier, and in such an incredibly tragic way. 22. That puts me at 21 at the time of her suicide. Tragic.

I have seen the book, and it is very nicely done. Hmm..off to Amazon...

It's so hard for me to separate Francesca Woodman from her legions of imitators... By the time I was in college in mid 90s, it was hard to find photographs that weren't of nude figures in dilapidated, rural buildings. They were everywhere, and it became pretty annoying. It's hard for me to imagine that there was a point when this was startlingly original, but clearly it was and I can see that the work is great; just very hard to shake off all of the associations.

I saw one of the shows in north London the other week (now, sadly, closed) and the work on display was truly excellent.

Mike, you are quite right when you say that she is one of those photographers that people should know.

Btw, The Woodsman with Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgewick,is an excellent, gut-wrenching film.

There's only a small handful of images easily available a click or two away from this article, but I have to say they all strike me as the same sort of terrible rubbish that students always produce. These are at least FINISHED rather than half-done and then.. doctored in some dumb way, but they still seem to be pretty awful. There was some mastery of technique, but I'm not really seeing any ideas -- at least nothing that's definitely an idea beyond the "gee-whiz nudity and fuzziness." I am willing to believe there might be some ideas I'll see after I look over some more work.

They are the kind of image that, with a little exciting back story and some critical hype, allow the viewer to imbue them with all kinds of subtext. Ooo, she's challenging the very idea of sexuality! Or, maybe she just thinks pictures of naked girls are ever so racy, you know, just like loads of other 19 year olds do.

In the late 1980s I resurrected a disused darkroom at a small liberal arts college in New England, which was then discovered and used by some rather messy wannabee artists. They left this sort of thing all over it, all the time, along with the rest of their mess. To my irritation.

This is probably a little dismissive, sorry.

"This is probably a little dismissive, sorry."

Ya think?


Too bad I missed it at the Film Forum, but "The Woodmans" should be soon available on Netflix. - Thanks!

A quick view of her work left me feeling I was viewing the inner soul of a troubled person. A dark corner of her being if you will. Kind of sad really.

Most of the people I know who have produced any amount of art in their lives made a good chunk of their best work as students or at least as very young adults. It can be a very liberating, free and experimental time for many. As we age a lot of art (admittedly) falls into that realm of what's salable. I am going to a friend's show tonight at a gallery that has made him a good pile of cash with work he is less that excited about.

It's hard to be a regular member of society, raise kids and run a household and find any amount of time to be an artist. Most people can't do it.


Sooo ... what is Ms. Woodman's Bacon number? I calculate it as 2.


I feel I should elaborate a little more, having had some more time to think and looked over more of the artist's work. Let me take another crack at being negative without being dismissive!

I'm still not seeing anything in the work itself. I feel like she's trying for something, and maybe hitting it, but it's pretty much one note. And, it's the same note young photographers of a certain stripe always seem to aim for. Admittedly, hitting a single note pretty often is better than what *I* do, but I'm not exactly a standard to judge by.

Now, that's the intrinsics of the work, as far as my perceptions take me. Perhaps you think that art is a bigger thing, and includes the context and the viewer and so on -- to a large extent, I agree. In this bigger world, sure, there's something there. The trouble, for me, is that (again, per my perception only, of course) you could take any technically capable teenaged photographer and plug their portfolio into the story and the context, and get the same result. In short, I think that absent her suicide and a certain amount of careful promotion, the work would be perceived as, at best, substantially less. That it is perceived as more is perhaps enough, to a modern view that means it is more, and to an extent, I agree.

Maybe she invented this, but I'm not convinced. I was seeing this sort of thing around in darkroom trash cans in 1988 or 1989, and the first major show of her work seems to be 1986. Three years? Maybe, maybe not. I'm pretty sure the ennui of the 20-year-old predates human civilization.

I don't think a Kevin Bacon number is appropriate, but a Francis Bacon number might be.

Thanks for the more nuanced version. [g]

The problem with being dismissive is that not everything resonates for everyone. For instance, to me, there are about 15 tastes, most of which I'm suspicious of. To me "sweet" is good and most of the rest ranges from tolerable to intolerable. But, naturally, to a foodie or a gourmet or a chef or someone who loves to cook or simply to eat, there are millions of flavors and shadings and notes of flavors--to them, subtle differences in the flavors of food are an inexhaustibly rich lifelong journey of experience.

So am I justified in saying "food is fuel; as long as you can choke it down it's all the same"? Or
rather, is that opinion deserving of consideration and respect from others?

I've always felt that the difference between discrimination and dismissal are when you can distinguish between good and bad in genres, media, styles or modes that don't necessarily appeal to you or speak to you directly. It shows a deeper, more respectful engagement with the art and more openmindedness, in my view. From what you're saying, it sounds to me like you just don't like that style of work and you're content to lump it all together and toss it all aside--good, bad, or indifferent...along with everything 20-year-olds might feel. Which is fine if that's what you want to do, but it doesn't persuade me that you've said anything of substance.

So there you go--the more nuanced version of my criticism that you're being dismissive.

Interesting work — looking forward to hearing more about it and more about who she influenced and about who influenced her.

Do give The Woodsman a try, though. I remember it being very powerful when watching it in the cinema.

So sad, on so many levels. Thanks for posting, Mike.

Wow! How lovely. I am even more inspired to continue on the project I'm currently working.


I feel that I must join the group of people who appreciate your covering of this individual, but who really don't believe it is significant beyond the fact that it composes the work of a dead person.

Obviously, I have only seen about 20 images, but the most polite thing I can say about them is that they are both:

a. indicative of a disturbed mind whose intent was to likewise disturb or shock the viewer.
b. somewhat repetitive and/or derivitive of earlier works (some experimental in nature and never otherwise repeated for public consumption except by college students).

I suppose that my bottom line is this....I found nothing in her work that was of sufficient value to cause it to be added to my photographic teaching lexicon (especially if it meant that some other photographer's work would have to be slighted as a result).

It has often seemed to me that the idea of being a suicidal maniac producing disturbing and weird works which have no obvious theme or message has been a hallmark guaranteeing acceptance into the "artistic community." I am strongly in the group of photographers who place this individual in that group.

The Elizabeth Gumport article includes a photo of a nude woman intertwined with the roots of a tree on a riverbank. The article identifies this photo as a "genuine self-portrait."

My question is: how was it taken? I cannot imagine how Ms. Woodman tripped the shutter using the technology of the era. And if someone else pressed the shutter ...

I'm just asking ...

I bought the monograph when it first came out, at a time when (a) I had relatively little money to spend on photography books (I was in grad school); (b) I had ever heard of F. Woodman, and knew nothing about her backstory (having not read the book's text); and (c) a generally low regard for conceptual photography.

I bought the book solely on the strength of the pictures.

I'm still impressed by them. She accomplished quite a lot in a short time, at an early age.


Addendum: when I first looked though Woodman's monograph, I thought that I liked the work in almost exactly the same way that I didn't like Cindy Sherman's stuff.

"I found nothing in her work that was of sufficient value..."

No offense intended, but I'm afraid I don't quite believe you...artists of no value do not usually provoke such strong feelings as yours...as the old saying has it, the opposite of love is not hate, it is indifference. From your comment, you do not seem to be indifferent.


Vivian Maier, I got. Francesca Woodman I don't get. And this despite the belief I hold that TOP has helped me open my mind to art I would have previously 'dismissed'. They strike me as contrived weirdness; too personal to make anyone but a close friend care. And yet obviously people find something interesting in them that I don't see. Are these interesting without back story ? Would they be interesting if she hadn't died ? She clearly created pictures that were the result of some process of visualization; some idea that floated through her head, but is that enough ? I can't help but think that her photographs are nothing more than a view into a self-absorbed persons mind, and then I can't help but think of David Vestal's comments on selves:
"Self-expression doesn't interest me. The rest of the universe is so much bigger, more varied and interesting than any self, and, in any case, the self is never left out".
I probably have this all wrong, but I just don't see what's supposed to be interesting about her photographs and what's written about them is art-speak that doesn't help.

Mike quoted an art critics statement: "It is impossible to view her work without being drawn into the vast questions it raises about life, art and the meaning and embodiment of sex...."

Really ? If I force myself to view them in that way, I suppose, but that doesn't make them any more interesting. She was 22 ... what did she know about life ? (Between her parents and her formal education, she knew far more about art than I'll ever know, certainly). I'm 44 and I'm not sure what "vast questions about the meaning and embodiment of sex" might even be !

Bill Pierce referred to it (in his post above) as "conceptual photography" so I did a quick google search and found out what conceptual photography is, saw some examples ... and those, I got.

Oh well. My gut reaction is to say the Emperor has no clothes. But if nothing else, I've learned enough to know that he must, and, well, I just can't see them.

Here is a link to a review in The London Review of Books of the recent London show.


I didn't see the show so I can't comment myself, but Dillon seems to echo some of these comments

"And yet for all their sophistication the strange appeal of these photographs also derives from Woodman’s youth, from the way she seems to know and not to know exactly what she is doing. It’s possible to read her willowy, blurred nudes among picturesque ruins as the product of an adolescent aesthetic: culturally hothoused and overinvested in Surrealist and Gothic precursors. There are hints that she was trapped not in these decaying rooms but inside her own self-fashioning"

Francesca raises a lot of questions with her photography about her photography and her life and the meaning of her life and the meaning of life. The fragile ephemeral transitory randomness of life and her life as validated by the proof of her death.

I find it impossible to not take her photography seriously. I just wanna cry.

I have not read all the comments, so my apologies to anyone who has already said this...

Francesca Woodman died thirty years ago. She has played no part in her own recent popularization. She is not making any money from it nor taking any pleasure in it. Derisive remarks, if called for at all, should be aimed at those who are promoting her and, presumably, making money from her work. (Who would that be? The filmmakers? Her parents? Others? I don't know.) It's easy but quite possibly justified to be disgusted by the publicity machine, particularly if it romanticizes suicide. But contempt for the machine should be aimed at those who are working it, not at a long dead person who was not in any way responsible for it.

Some of Francesca Woodman's photos are so evocative, in particular the photo at the top of this item, On being an angel. It is beautifully evocative: her face, partially hidden by the piece of material, the imprints of cutlery on the material and, especially, the blurred fork on her hand. Maybe this is what we really like about so-called conceptual photography or art: an evocativeness that transcends technique; its ability to remind us (sometimes) of why we do photography in the first place, as an expression of our desire as opposed to documenting the world around us or collecting jogs for the memory. Perhaps, this is why this type of photography gets associated with students insomuch as it is big on desire and not so strong on technique. And yet so much of it reminds us why desire can transcend technique.

Her work also reminds us of what a short "shelf life" photography has: brand spanking new this morning, cheap as dirt this afternoon.

Thank you for the posting, Mike.

Robert Boyd, mentioned in the above article, has a fantastic art blog called The Great God Pan Is Dead.

Come on, guys, lighten up! Her ending might be sad but the photos certainly aren't. Don't you remember as kids playing hide-and-seek? That seems as good a modus operandi for her photography as any. And I bet she had fun playing the game because none of her instructors (or critics that came later) twigged her out.

Appreciate the reply, Mike!

My problem is that I truly am trying to sort through why I think this work is thin, and others disagree. The two obvious answers are 'I am a philistine' and 'everyone except me is an idiot' and those are, I stipulate, both wrong answers! Arguably, I shouldn't do all this dumb thinking out loud on someone else's web site, but I flatter myself that it adds to the conversation, or something.

After even MORE time, I can add this, though: I do respond to Woodman's photos, at a level beyond "my, how sharp that photo is" or "my, how pretty a flower" and that's my rough-and-ready definition of Art. So, for me, it's Art. As I've suggested, for me it is Art from a Young Person -- no surprise, she was young. So, duh.

So, I think my final (?!) thought on the matter is -- she had the chops to actually express ideas, and she did express those ideas, and the ideas she expressed were the ideas that are perhaps natural to one of her age and circumstances. My only remaining problem is simply that I don't find those ideas all that great -- and that's on me, not her.

I'm often pretty unmoved by conceptual work or women (it's usually women) who photograph themselves repeatedly but these images are full of emotional power. It's very sad that what drove her to end her life didn't drive her instead to live through her photography.

I received my copy of Francesca Woodman from Amazon today. It's a beautifully haunting book. I'm particularly impressed by her amazingly graceful sense of composition. Thanks for the tip, Mike!

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