Research Task: Francesca Woodman

“It is difficult not to read Woodman’s many self-portraits – she produced over five hundred during her short lifetime – as alluding to a troubled state of mind. She committed suicide at the age of twenty-two.”
Bright, S. Auto focus: The self-portrait in contemporary photography (2010)

Bright’s analysis of Woodman’s photography as referenced is on the surface accurate. Woodman’s collection of images are typically darkly toned self-portraits, surreal in composition and posing, capturing herself often naked or exposing certain parts of her body. She uses long shutter speeds to distort her movements, creating an ethereal feel to the scenes also often selected for their run down and poorly maintained dusty appearances. These scenes compound the feeling of isolation, vulnerability and loss associated with the knowledge of the artists suicide.

In stating that on the surface these thoughts are accurate I refer to the fact that Bright is reviewing these images nearly 30 years after the artists suicide. The knowledge of the artist decision to take their own life combined with the knowledge that Woodman had recently experienced a relationship breakdown and several rejections of her work as an artist significantly impacts the interpretation of the artists extensive works. It is easy to take the knowledge we have now and attribute that to the works as a way of finding meaning within the images. Woodman often left her images untitled with little supporting information for the intention but we do have the accounts of friends and family to challenge the belief that the work is reflective of a troubled mind.

Woodman’s parents describe her as being “witty” and that her images were “often funny”, that “she had a good time”.

I think we see this in several of her images, Woodman produced over 800 prints with only around 120 ever being published. We often associate Woodman with only a select few of those images and I think this is were the idea of the photographs prophecising Woodman’s suicide comes from. The images I selected for fig.1 is an example of the other side of Woodman’s work. We see Woodman apparently dancing with a cat an image I can’t help but smile at and relate with.


Woodman has been described as suffering from depression most relevantly by her long term friend and room mate Betsy Berne. Betsy also described her as a feminist with a great sense of humour, also describing her work as contained witty and ironic themes. Space2 (Fig.2)shows the juxtaposition of Woodman, nude against the skull on display in a cabinet.


At first glance it is easy to see the skull as symbolic of a theme of death but looking closer at the image we see Woodman posing in an exaggerated sexualised form, we see the way the light falls perfectly for that type of pose and the framing of Woodman with the cabinet herself. More of a message on sexuality created by a feminist than a vision of the artists state of mind.

This short piece is more about when presented with information prior to the exploration of the art we have a pre conceived idea of what to conclude form the images. Knowing Woodman died by suicide gives us the subconscious bias to look for the depression in each frame. Viewing the images with a open mind we see the artist toying with the idea of life and death, of being here and not here and also the sexualisation of the nude female body. We also see her humour and relationships as well as her skill as a photographer. It is all these concepts and ideas that I find interesting, I relate to her depression and see her photography as her discovering her value, speaking about her self and trying to communicate her inner voice but I don’t see her body of work as “alluding to a troubled state of mind” only that we want to interpret what we see and taking her suicide as the driving force to her work is the easiest way to do that.

Image Reference

fig.1 – Space2Searching for the real Francesca Woodman (2014) At: (Accessed 22/06/2020)

fig.2 – Self-portrait with cat New York by FrancescaWoodman (s.d.) At: (Accessed 22/06/2020).


Artworks | National Galleries of Scotland (s.d.) At: (Accessed 22/06/2020).Francesca Woodman | artnet | Page 12 (s.d.) At: (Accessed 22/06/2020).Isl, jumpingNationalityAmericanEducationBoulder H. S. materRhode and Woodman, S. of D. W. (s.d.) Francesca Woodman – Wikipedia. At: (Accessed 22/06/2020).On Being an Angel: finding Francesca Woodman in the otherness of her self-portraits (2016) At: (Accessed 22/06/2020).Searching for the real Francesca Woodman (2014) At: (Accessed 22/06/2020).Self-portrait with cat New York by FrancescaWoodman (s.d.) At: (Accessed 22/06/2020).

One thought on “Research Task: Francesca Woodman

  1. I very much like Woodman’s work and researched it for a previous course, as you say Harley a lot of it has this wonderful ethereal quality produced by slow shutter speeds which, I think, also add a dynamic quality to the images. Additionally, I think the use of film also adds to the “feel” of the photographs, it doesn’t have that often perfect feel of digital. It is such a shame that her life ended so early.

    Liked by 1 person

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