Francesca Woodman was an American photographer best known for her black and white pictures featuring herself and female models. Many of her photographs show young women who are nude, blurred (due to movement and long exposure times), merging with their surroundings, or whose faces are obscured.
Woodman attended public school in Boulder, Colorado, between 1963 and 1971 except for second grade, which she attended in Italy. She began high school in 1972 at the private Massachusetts boarding school Abbot Academy, where she began to develop her photographic skills and became interested in the art form. Abbot Academy merged with Phillips Academy in 1973; Woodman graduated from the public Boulder High School in 1975. Through 1975, she spent summers with her family in Italy. She spent her time in Italy in the Florentine countryside, where she lived on an old farm with her parents.
Beginning in 1975, Woodman attended the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) in Providence, Rhode Island. She studied in Rome between 1977 and 1978 in a RISD honors program. As she spoke fluent Italian, she was able to befriend Italian intellectuals and artists. She went back to Rhode Island in late 1978 to graduate from RISD.
Woodman moved to New York City in 1979. After spending the summer of 1979 in Stanwood, Seattle whilst visiting her boyfriend at Pilchuck Glass School, she returned to New York "to make a career in photography."
She sent portfolios of her work to fashion photographers, but "her solicitations did not lead anywhere. In the summer of 1980 she was an artist-in-residence at the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire.
In late 1980 Woodman became depressed due to the failure of her work to attract attention and to a broken relationship. She survived a suicide attempt, after which she lived with her parents in Manhattan. On January 19, 1981, she committed suicide by jumping out a loft window in New York. An acquaintance wrote, "things had been bad, there had been therapy, things had gotten better, guard had been let down."
Her father has suggested that Woodman's suicide was related to an unsuccessful application for funding from the National Endowment for the Arts
Francesca Woodman photographed herself, often nude, in empty interiors. But her pictures are not traditional self-portraits. She is usually half-hidden by objects or furniture or appears as a blur. The images convey an underlying sense of human fragility. This fragility is exaggerated by the fact that the photographs are printed on a very small scale – they seem personal and intimate.
Most of the photographs in the ARTIST ROOMS collection come from Francesca’s former boyfriend Benjamin P. Moore. She gave him the photographs, and many of them include intimate messages written in their margins. The messages become part of the artwork.
Woodman continuously explored and tested what she could do with photography. She challenged the idea that the camera fixes time and space – something that had always been seen as one of the fundamentals of photography. She playfully manipulated light, movement and photographic effects, and used carefully selected props, vintage clothing and decaying interiors to add a mysterious gothic atmosphere to the work.
Her importance as an innovator is significant, particularly in the context of the 1970s when the status of photography was still regarded as less important than painting and sculpture. She led the way for later American artists who used photography to explore themes relating to identity such as Cindy Sherman
and Nan Goldin
Francesca Woodman’s entire body of work was produced as a young person and created over just eight short years. Her photographs explore many themes that affect young people such as relationships, sexuality, questions of self, body image, alienation, isolation and confusion or ambiguity about personal identity.