Francesca Woodman was beautiful and youthful with long, dark hair and a slim body. She was often the subject of her own artwork, but rather than focusing on her beauty, her photographs often elicit a haunting, somewhat unnerving mood. She created ghostly, blurred images with long exposure and her face was usually obscured or hidden in her photos. Her work commonly included symbols such as birds, mirrors, and skulls. Over the course of her life, Francesca created more than 800 prints.
Born to two artists, Francesca grew up surrounded by art, frequented art museums and was encouraged from a young age to foster her creativity. She spent time in many different parts of the country; born in Colorado, attended boarding school in Massachusetts, and later was accepted into the honors program at the Rhode Island School of Design. She also frequently traveled to Italy, spending summers there at her family home in Florence and studying abroad in Rome her junior year of college. It was in a small bookshop/gallery in Rome that Francesca held her first exhibition. After graduating, she spent time in Seattle and eventually moved back to the northeast to New York. During this time, the first inklings of severe depression began to consume Francesca and it was there that her life would eventually end.
After college, Francesca pursued a career in photography but success did not come easily. Her portfolios were continuously rejected and this, along with a failed relationship, presented struggles Francesca could not overcome. In fall of 1980, Francesca attempted to commit suicide but failed. Seeking help, she moved in with her parents in Manhattan and her condition seemed to improve. She applied for a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts but was rejected. In January of 1981, Francesca committed suicide by jumping out of a loft window in East Side New York. Her father claimed her suicide was the result of severe depression and a series of rejections.
Although Francesca’s life ended at the age of 22, her work continues to receive acclaim over 30 years after her death. Her work has been featured in many major exhibitions across the United States from New York to Colorado to California and many places in between. Her work is also recognized internationally and has been displayed in numerous European countries. Her life has been chronicled in both print and film; the most notable being a full-length documentary directed by C. Scott Willis called The Woodmans.
Francesca’s work is remembered because of the many unique elements she incorporated into her photography. The frequent desolate settings and obscurity of her photos evoke disturbing feelings and fascination from viewers. Her work is often characterized by the theme of mystery, implying that photographs never tell the whole truth about the subject.
Artist: Body features two of Francesca’s pieces, Untitled, New York and Self Portrait (Providence, RI). Most of her photographs do not have specific titles, but rather are identified by the time and place they were taken. Francesca’s characteristic female subject and use of black and white film are present in both of these renowned photographs.
You can view Francesca’s work at the Loudoun House this Friday at Fourth Friday: Curatorial Conversation March 25th from 6pm-9 pm or during gallery hours Wednesday through Thursday 10am-4pm and Saturday through Sunday 1pm-4pm until March 27th.
Written by Caitlin Robinson, LAL intern, Eastern Kentucky University Recreation and Park Administration student