Remembering Francesca Woodman


If there is only one thing that you take from this post, I hope it is a recommendation to watch a documentary film, The Woodmans, which is being broadcast in the US on PBS (in most markets, on December 22).  I have not yet seen this documentary, but I know something about the underlying story, and I must say that it is a remarkable story.

Francesca Woodman was a brilliant photographer, born into a family of artists, who committed suicide at age 22.  Her work has been the subject of numerous exhibitions (a current exhibition is taking place at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.)  She has now been the subject of seven major retrospective catalogues of her work:

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PC112305 by amalric
PC112305, a photo by amalric on Flickr.

This is the old slaughterhouse in Rome, Italy.
Despite the art installation of tubular bells, it keeps something sinister, of the old concentration camp – for animals, see the hooks.

Via Flickr:
Mattatoio (old Slaughterhouse) and surroundings. Rome Dec 2013.

A missed appointment with Francesca Woodman

I received her invitation to an exhibition in Rome 20 years after she was dead!

Francesca Woodman was one of the preeminent artists and photogs. of her generation. She first shined in Rome at the end of the 1970s, but was later to have recognition as an  artist in the US, sadly long after her suicide in NY , still in her early twenties.

She brought Photography at a cross between Surrealism, Body Art and Feminism, but was generally interpreted according to the latter. Only later critics understood her importance as a contemporary artist in the Conceptual/Body Art arena. She was also dubbed the Rimbaud of photography for her blazing imaginative vision.

You can imagine my  consternation when I discovered that she had sent me a personal invitation with a real photograph of hers stuck on it, and that I had never received it!

In fact the owner of the gallery had stolen all the invitations, and they resurfaced at an exhibition in Rome after 20 yrs. Here it is: a friend saw it and brought me a photostat of the original invitation. I publish it here as a proof.

I should really sue the gallery owner, but thanks to this  shock I have made an even stronger bond with Francesca. In my mind she has established the strongest rapport between photo and poetry. Therefore I propose to make her  into the ‘déesse tutélaire’ of this blog.

Woodman had had a classical education, including one year in Florence, and was educated  at the Rhode Island School of Art. One of the references I like to have from her is how to set the human body in a cube-like empty room, an act of visual cruelty, that she might have learned from Francis Bacon.

I don’t do staged pictures, however I am sensitive as she was to the unheimlich, the unfamiliar, and the passage to the other side of the mirror. It is probably a familiarity with things of the Spirit – non-Western people would call it.

The exhibition of her naked body, which people identified with feminism, I see more in terms of Body Art and the liberated sexualization of the 1970. I was myself active in conceptual theatre at the time, and nudity was an unremarkable feature of the times. She did refine it to the quality of statuary, giving to photography the timeless dimension it deserves.

In memoriam, Francesca. Long live to your photography!


Psychogeography, in two words

Psychogeography, in two words

The science of strolling one could call it. In fact the word appeared in the 1960s among an Avant-Garde group of artists and militants issued from the Cobra group and later known as the Internationale Situationniste, the Mother of Mai ’68.

The theory was that by the Dérive, i.e. the dedicated stroll. one or a group reappropriated the urban spaces lost to bad industrial planning. It is only in recent years that the concept has reached the attention of photogs.

See here:

Curiously it is this picture/scenery that reminded me of the word. It is Piazza Iside in Rome, that I associate with a monument to Death, probably because of the Goddess Isis, the Egyptian Queen of Death and Rebirth, whose cult was well spread during the Empire. And I dubbed it:The Earthly Journey, since the crossing of the stairs seemed to me a crossing to another world – through the dimension of perspective.

Some places are ominous, or all of a sudden I become sensitive to them. I try to convey them through Photography, B&W here seemed appropriate to the theme.

Abandoned places, Urbex, is akin to the same disposition, The Situationnistes, the architect part, also connected PG to topology, places which connect across other places, irrespective of ditance. But I take it in the psychological sense, a place where you would like to meet somebody, or take a picture.

Slow Photography, or the limits of PhotoShop

Because Photography allows today so many manipulations I try to restrict myself to reality. If you are a Graphic Artist you’ll love PS, and you won’t see the point. But if you are a Photographer?

OC a newspaper editor has other rules, and usually manipulations are forbidden in prizes and other important challenges – so where to draw the line? Perhaps some LR might be accepted but no PS betrayal?

That is why I prefer to set the camera as a trap BEFORE the event, and catch whatever comes at the right moment. If shadows are wrong I might do a bit of correction, but I try to restrict myself even there: why didn’t I do EV correction before? Wouldn’t it be better to drop the image altogether?

‘Back to basics’ or Slow Photography one would call it: it is  a reaction to PS excesses of the past. Early photographers of the 1850s were so bored by their painterly manipulations that they all went back to painting, Nadar, a sublime portraitist instead dedicated himself to Zeppelins.