A sort of perverse glamour has built up around the enigma that is Francesca Woodman, who took her own life aged 22 in 1981. As with Sylvia Plath and her writing, it’s difficult to distance your interpretation of Woodman’s film photography from her suicide. She’s a spectral figure in her work, never quite in focus or frame and either naked or dressed in vintage clothes. The nudity is never gratuitous, yet there’s a violence about it that’s hard to pinpoint.
This winter, Andréhn-Schiptjenko will be holding the gallery’s first solo exhibition of Woodman’s work. It will display a select number from her large and singular oeuvre, starting with her first work, Self-portrait at 13 (1971). This photo, taken in Boulder, Colorado, features a young Woodman who appears to have fashioned a prototype selfie stick. She is partially turned away from the camera and her hair completely conceals her face. Even at 13, we can see an idea that will go on to preoccupy Woodman for the entirety of her short career – how to evade the gaze of the camera whilst being the main subject of the image.
There’s something disconcerting about how difficult it is to build an image of Woodman as you look at her work. Despite featuring so centrally in her photography, she always looks as if she’s attempting to hide or escape from the viewer. It’s all manufactured, of course, as she’s the one who choreographed and captured the image in the first place.
Her explanation for why she appears so frequently in her own work? “It’s a matter of convenience – I’m always available.”
Woodman’s provocative and playful work has been the subject of much critical examination, and her photographs have been widely exhibited. One highlight includes On Being An Angel at Moderna Museet here in Stockholm (2015-2016) touring to Foam Amsterdam (2016) and to Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson, Paris (2016). Another is Francesca Woodman at the Museum of Modern Art (San Francisco 2011-2012) which toured to Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York (2012).
Any viewing of Woodman’s work is a bittersweet occasion. The viewer is left considering what else the highly talented amateur might have gone on to achieve if she had only lived longer.
Words: Daisy Fernandez