When viewing Francesca Woodman’s photographs, it’s hard to believe that not only were the images taken while she was still a student, but that this girl, who saw such beauty, killed herself at age 22. It’s a sobering thought that often drew me out of my trance-like state while viewing her retrospective at the Guggenheim. Walking from room to room—demarcating her time spent at Rhode Island School of Design, a postgraduate year spent in Italy, and her final years in NYC—it almost feels as though Francesca lived her life in fast-forward. Her relentless determination to produce art, a fervor instilled by her artist parents, is evident in her complex body of work.
In the nine years she spent shooting, Francesca produced over 800 images, mostly in square format, favoring herself as the subject. The painterly quality of her work, due in part to slow exposures, evokes a delicacy. Situating herself and her female classmates in similar indoor settings (discounting a brief segue shooting among nature; see Untitled, 1980 at left), Francesca’s mostly nude figures either stood, crouched, or hid in dilapidated rooms. Sometimes the figures are barely visible at all, camouflaged with the decrepit wallpaper or blurred in motion. Mirrors, panels of glass, eels, and lilies charge the images with symbolism, while her disheveled braids and floral sundresses remind you that she was still just a young woman. Francesca’s coherent vision is a signpost in the history of American photography and self-portraiture.
Through June 13, 2012.
SOLOMON R. GUGGENHEIM MUSEUM
1071 5th Ave
New York, NY, 10128 MAP