Francesca Woodman - Self-portrait of the artist - Photo Credits Pinterest

Francesca Woodman/ Francesca Woodman

United States 1958 - 1981


Francesca Woodman
Francesca Woodman
United States

When it comes to the history of photography, there aren’t many tragic stories that can compare with the life of Francesca Woodman. This brilliant photographer’s artwork was so misunderstood in her time that it’s hard to find a proper analogy – especially when you consider that her career met a sudden end as Francesca committed suicide when she was just twenty-two years of age. Woodman was from The United States Of America and was without a doubt one of the most talented photographers of her generation, best known for her black and white style and photos in which she and other female models posed in order to create unsettling and dark imagery that had the objective of depicting different states of the artist’s mind.

work from home in New York photographs Rhode island body in colorado
Francesca Woodman – Self-portrait-1977 (Left) / From Polka Dots, 1976 (Right)

Woodman’s Backstory

Francesca Woodman was born on April 3, 1958, in the city of Denver, Colorado. Her parents, George Woodman and Betty Woodman, were both professional artists and Francesca did not fall far from the tree – she began taking photographs at the age of thirteen. With her parents supporting and guiding her, Woodman was developing rather quickly, establishing her own way of taking images that were a bit darker than that of her mother and father. In the year of 1972, Francesca started attending a private Massachusetts boarding school Abbot Academy and it was here that she started really developing her own ways of expression offered by the medium of photography. This was also the time that Francesca started to observe and approach her photos as art. After graduation, Woodman spent yet another summer with her family in Italy – a tradition that existed ever since Francesca was a toddler – and after that, in the year of 1975, she began attending the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence. Two years later, she traveled to Rome as a part of an honors program. She returned to the United States of America in 1978 and graduated from RISD the same year. Soon after that, Francesca Woodman relocated to New York in order to pursue a career in photography, as there was never any doubt as to which profession she will try herself at. She started by making a few untitled black and white photos – something she stayed true to her entire career as many of the more than 800 prints produced during her lifetime are black ‘n’ white and untitled, usually named by date and location.

Although she was under a strong influence of her parents, Woodman decided to steer her style into much darker waters from her mother and father

work from home in New York photographs Rhode island body in colorado
Francesca Woodman – Woman with a Large Plate, 1978 (Left) / Untitled Photo From The Angels Series (Right)

Francesca Images And Their Style

Thematically, Francesca Woodman’s photographs used to explore issues of gender and self-identification, but technically speaking, her images were always the representation of the body in relation to its surroundings. Every single image from her portfolio was a combination and a successful blend of performance, play and self-exposure, as well as a strong metaphor on its own. Over the years, Woodman’s photos have established an infamous reputation of creating extreme and often disturbing psychological states in its viewers – the same states the artist was in during the making of the pieces. Francesca used to put herself inside most of her images, creating the entire audience-photo relation that much more intimate – however, it should be noted that in spite of that, Woodman’s artwork can not be described as conventional self-portraits. Although she is in most of her frames, Francesca is almost always either partially hidden or concealed by slow exposures that blur her moving figure into a ghostly presence. Her body seems to literally merge with its surroundings – covered by sections of peeling wallpapers, half hidden behind the flat plane of a door or crouching over a mirror – giving every single photo not only an incredible effect but also a far deeper meaning. Much of her work has been influenced by her aforementioned visits to Italy, where Francesca was exposed to the symbolic work of Max Klinger. Woodman was also influenced by artists such as Man Ray and Duane Michals, but we’ll cover her inspirations in the next paragraph.

Even though Francesca herself is in most of her photos, her images are far from the conventional self-portraiture pieces

work from home in New York photographs Rhode island body in colorado
Francesca Woodman – House #4, 1977 (Left) / House #3, 1976 (Right)

The Artistic Peak Before A Tragic End

Woodman’s entire career has been based on many influences, starting from her parent’s styles to symbolism and surrealism that certainly had a huge effect on the way Francesca worked. She even showed glimpses of connections to fashion photography and Baroque painting. Such broad ranges of influences all managed to find their own place inside this photographer’s images, all being equal and apparent, yet somehow under the surface and hard to spot. Many critics have also connected Francesca to Yayoi Kusama due to her well-known photo series titled Polka Dots, in which she appears wearing a polka dot dress. Francesca Woodman’s deserted interior spaces often find themselves full of found objects and suggestive props, carefully arranged to create unsettling, surreal or claustrophobic scenarios. Her mature photos – and we use that term very loosely, as Woodman’s did not have a chance to fully develop her style – had a strong sense of an underlying vulnerability, further emphasized by the small and intimate format of the photographs. It may seem weird now, especially when you read the in-depth analyses of Woodman’s work, but back in the 1980s, the world was simply not prepared for that kind of art. Francesca continued to send her portfolios to photographers and magazines with no success, causing the young artist to slip into problems with depression and self-questioning. As a result, Woodman attempted to take her own life on two occasions, being successful on January 19th of the year 1981. The young woman was only twenty-two years of age.

Francesca Woodman carefully positioned every single detail inside her compositions in order to achieve the wanted disturbing effect that was to both shock and fascinate

work from home in New York photographs Rhode island body in colorado
Francesca Woodman – Untitled, 1975-1980 (Left) / Space², 1975-1978 (Right)

A Bitter-Sweet Story

As was said before, the story of Francesca Woodman is one of the most tragic in the entire history of photography. Such talent and skill so ahead of her time make Woodman’s work simply crucial, but the way she ended her life really puts a dark mark on her career. Besides the aforementioned 800+ prints, she created at least 10,000 negatives in her short lifetime, all of them now in the possession of her parents – every single one of them beautiful and artistic in their own right. Her images are arguably the most successful example of photography coming close to Conceptualism and, although the loss of such a young artist is always troubling, her work full of symbolic motifs such as birds, mirrors and skulls will continue to live on.

Featured Image: Francesca Woodman – Self-portrait of the artist – Photo Credits Pinterest
All Images Photo Credits Francesca Woodman

YearExhibition TitleGallery/MuseumSolo/Group 
2015Bare WunderSies + Höke, DusseldorfGroup
2015Feministische Avantgarde Der 1970Er JahreHamburger Kunsthalle, HamburgGroup
2015PliureCentre Culturel Calouste Gulbenkian, ParisGroup
2015SELF: Portraits of Artists in Their AbsenceNational Academy Museum, New York City, NYGroup
2015Francesca Woodman - Solo ExhibitMarian Goodman Gallery, New York City, NYSolo
2015Absence (Looking for Hammershoi)David Risley Gallery, CopenhagenGroup
2014Francesca Woodman - Solo ShowGalerie Hubert Winter, ViennaSolo
2014Francesca Woodman - ZigzagVictoria Miro Gallery, LondonSolo
2014Memórias da ObsolescênciaPaço das Artes, São PauloGroup
2014SelbstauslöserMuseum der Moderne, SalzburgGroup
2014La piel translúcida. Obras de la Colección Iberdrola. - Patio HerrerianoMuseo de Arte Contemporáneo Español, ValladolidGroup
2014Una solitudine troppo rumorosaNuova Galleria Morone, MilanGroup
2014WOMAN. The Feminist Avant-Garde from the 1970sMjellby Konstmuseum, HalmstadGroup
2014PunctumSalzburger Kunstverein, SalzburgGroup
2014Self-Timer StoriesAustrian Cultural Forum New York, New York City, NYGroup
2014Woman - The Feminist Avant-Garde Of The 1970sBOZAR - Palais des Beaux-Arts, Paleis voor Schone Kunsten, BrusselsGroup
2014Le Mur, La collection Antoine de GalbertLa Maison Rouge, ParisGroup
2014TransVisible, 19 Bienal Paiz GuatemalaArtecentro Graciela Andrade de Paiz, Ciudad de GuatemalaGroup
2014International Women's Day - Artworks From The Collection Of Slava Nakovska And Nedko SolakovICA-Sofia - The Institute of Contemporary Art, SofiaGroup
2014La femme d’à côtéGalerie les filles du calvaire, ParisGroup
2014Reproductibilitat 1.1Es Baluard Museu d’Art Modern, Palma de MallorcaGroup
2014Her: Bi8Rolla Foundation, BruzellaGroup
2013Francesca Woodman - Self-portrait Talking To VinceSCAD Gallery Hong Kong, Hong KongSolo
2013Girl: Continued… The Legacy Of Francesca WoodmanSCAD Museum of Art , Savannah, GASolo
2013Anni '70. Arte a RomaPalazzo delle Esposizioni, RomeGroup
2013Quarantanni dLa Triennale di Milano. Design Museum, MilanGroup
2013The Other PortraitMART - Museo d'Arte Moderna e Contemporanea di Trento e Rovereto,RoveretoGroup
2013Joy before the objectArt Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, NSWGroup
2013Between Memory and ArchiveBerardo Museum - Collection of Modern and Contemporary Art,LisbonGroup
2013Home bodiesMuseum of Contemporary Art Chicago (MCA), Chicago, ILGroup
2013The Look Behind | Der Blick DahinterMärkisches Museum Witten, WittenGroup
2013Otherness. I is Somebody ElseEspace Louis Vuitton Paris, ParisGroup
2013[Un]SeenFountain Gallery, New York City, NYGroup
2013To The Friends Who Saved My LifeCallicoon Fine Arts, New York City, NYGroup
2013Four WoodmansNina Freudenheim Gallery, Buffalo, NYGroup
2013Specific CollisionsMarianne Boesky Gallery, New York City, NYGroup
2012Francesca Woodman - Solo ExhibitGalleria Massimo Minini, BresciaSolo
2012Francesca Woodman - Solo ShowGaleria Mendes Wood, São PauloSolo
2012Francesca WoodmanGalerie Clara Maria Sels, DusseldorfSolo
2012Francesca Woodman - The BlueprintsMarian Goodman Gallery, New York City, NYSolo
2012From Death to Death and Other Small Tales | Masterpieces from the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art and the D.DaskScottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, ScotlandGroup
2012Now Here is also Nowhere: Part IHenry Art Gallery, Seattle, WAGroup
2012In WonderlandMuseo de Arte Moderno de Mexico City, Mexico CityGroup
2012MindscapesCENTRALE for contemporary art, BrusselsGroup
2012Alice im Wunderland der KunstHamburger Kunsthalle, HamburgGroup
2012Pink CaviarLouisiana Museum of Modern Art, HumlebækGroup
2012À reboursVenus Over Manhattan, New York City, NYGroup
2012FemmescapesMills College Art Museum, Oakland, CAGroup
2012The WoodmansGallery Diet, Miami, FLGroup
2012In Wonderland: The Surrealist Adventures of Women Artists in Mexico and the United StatesLos Angeles County Museum of Art - LACMA, Los Angeles, CAGroup
2011Frames and Documents: Conceptualist Practices. Selections from the Ella Fontanals-Cisneros CollectionCIFO - Cisneros Fontanals Art Foundation, Miami, FLGroup
201180 @ 80Addison Gallery of American Art, Andover, MAGroup
2011Nothing in the World But YouthTurner Contemporary, Margate, KentGroup
2011Barely there Part IIMuseum of Contemporay Art Detroit, Detroit, MIGroup
2010Autoritratte (Female self portraits)Galleria degli Uffizi, FlorenceGroup
2010Betty, Charlie, Francesca & GeorgeSamson Projects, Boston, MAGroup
2010Inside Out, Photography After Form: Selections from the Ella Fontanals-Cisneros CollectionCIFO - Cisneros Fontanals Art Foundation, Miami, FLGroup
2010camuflajes - Caja MadridEspai Cultural de Barcelona, BarcelonaGroup
2010Justine Kurland and Francesca WoodmanBravinLee programs, New York City, NYGroup
2010Incognito: The Hidden Self-PortraitYancey Richardson Gallery, New York City, NYGroup
2010Off the Wall Part 1: Thirty Performative ActionsWhitney Museum of American Art, New York City, NYGroup
2010A Relative ExpanseLeslie Fritz Gallery, New York City, NYGroup
2010CamouflagesMuseo del Patrimonio Municipal de Málaga (MUPAM) | , MálagaGroup
2010Women photographersGalleria Carla Sozzani, MilanGroup
2010Donna. Avanguardia femminista negli anni 1970sGalleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna (GNAM) ,RomeGroup
2009Being in the World: Selections from the Ella Fontanals-Cisneros CollectionCIFO - Cisneros Fontanals Art Foundation, Miami, FLGroup
2009She Is a Femme Fatale - Berardo MuseumCollection of Modern and Contemporary Art, LisbonGroup
2009Angels of AnarchyManchester Art Gallery, ManchesterGroup
2009CamouflagesLa Casa Encendida, MadridGroup
2009DARKSIDE IIFotomuseum Winterthur, WinterthurGroup
2009Fail Again Fail Better #2MK Galerie, BerlinGroup
2009Selections from the Hara MuseumHara Museum of Contemporary Art, TokyoGroup
2009The Lens and the Mirror: Self-Portraits from the Collection, 1957–2007 The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, NYGroup
2009The Female Gaze: Women Look At WomenCheim & Read, New York City, NYGroup
2009Surrealism and Contemporary Art: Subversive SpacesCompton Verney, Compton Verney, WarwickshireGroup
2009Subversive Spaces: Surrealism and Contemporary ArtWhitworth Art Gallery, ManchesterGroup
2009This Is Not a Fashion Photograph: Selections from the ICP CollectionICP - International Center of Photography, New York City, NYGroup
2008Archeology of MindKuntsi Museum of Modern Art, VaasaGroup
2008The crack upKhastoo Gallery, Los Angeles, CAGroup
2008WACK! Art and the Feminist RevolutionVancouver Art Gallery, Vancouver, BCGroup
2008ConversationsKettle's Yard, Cambridge, CambridgeshireGroup
2008ARCHEOLOGY OF MINDMalmö konstmuseum, MalmöGroup
2008Held together with WaterIstanbul Modern, IstanbulGroup
2008IMPLANTThe Horticultural Society of New York Gallery, New York City, NYGroup
2008Freeway BalconiesDeutsche Guggenheim, BerlinGroup
2008Biennale di Alessandria - Shapes of TimeBiennale di Alessandria, AlessandriaGroup
2008EllipsisVisual Research Centre, Dundee, ScotlandGroup
2008WACK!: Art and the Feminist RevolutionMoMA PS1, New York City, NYGroup
2008EllipsisLunds konsthall, LundGroup
200730 40 Part IIMarian Goodman Gallery, New York City, NYGroup
2007Elipsis: Chantal Akerman, Lili Dujourie, Francesca WoodmanMuseo Tamayo, Mexico CityGroup
2007WACK! Art and the Feminist RevolutionNational Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, DCGroup
200730 40 Part IMarian Goodman Gallery, New York City, NYGroup
2007Pictures Of YouPeter Bergman, StockholmGroup
2007Francesca Woodman & Richard SerraIngleby Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland Group
2007The ShadowCompton Verney, Compton Verney, WarwickshireGroup
2007Held together with Water Kunst aus der Sammlung VerbundMAK - Museum für Angewandte Kunst, ViennaGroup
2007Encore!Shirley-Jones Gallery, Yellow Springs, OHGroup
2007WACK! - Art And The Feminist RevolutionThe Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, Los Angeles, CAGroup
2006Francesca Woodman - George WoodmanGalerie Clara Maria Sels, DusseldorfSolo
2006The Shadow SMS Contemporanea, SienaGroup
2006Gorge(I)Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten Antwerpen, AntwerpGroup
20064. Berlin Biennale für Zeitgenössische KunstBerlin biennale für zeitgenössische kunst, BerlinGroup
2006MasqueradeMuseum of Contemporary Art Sydney - MCA, Sydney, NSWGroup
2006Dormir, rêver... et autres nuitsCAPC - Musée d'art contemporain, BordeauxGroup
2006Screened and SelectedMiddlebury College Museum of Art, Middlebury, VTGroup
2005Indeterminate StatesCIFO - Cisneros Fontanals Art Foundation,Miami, FLGroup
2005Invito al CollezionismoGalleria Carla Sozzani, MilanGroup
2005Summer SkinStephen Cohen Gallery, Los Angeles, CAGroup
2005Be what you want but stay where you areWitte de With Center for Contemporary Art,RotterdamGroup
2005DIE REGIERUNGWiener Secession, ViennaGroup
2004How do we want to be governes?Figure and Ground - Miami Art Central, Miami, FLGroup
2004Anri Sala - Francesca WoodmanMarian Goodman Gallery, New York City, NYGroup
2004Women by WomenGalleria Carla Sozzani, MilanGroup
2004Kabakov, Woodman, Goller, Fabre, Blossfeldt - Le plan - rêvez, mes amisGalerie Clara Maria Sels, DusseldorfGroup
2004After ImageVictoria Miro Gallery, LondonGroup
2004Reflecting The MirrorMarian Goodman Gallery, New York City, NYGroup
2004IncommunicadoCornerhouse, ManchesterGroup
2004IncommunicadoCity Art Centre, Edinburgh, ScotlandGroup
2004After Image: Cindy Sherman, Francesca Woodman, Simryn Gil, Ana Mendieta Helsinki Art Museum, HelsinkiGroup
2003Francesca Woodman: PhotographsHerbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Ithaca, NYSolo
2003Francesca Woodman - On being an Angel - Photographien, 1972-1980Galerie Clara Maria Sels, DusseldorfSolo
2003XXXGalleria Davide Di Maggio, BerlinGroup
2003Staged FantasyGallery Sink, Denver, COGroup
2003IncommunicadoSainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, NorwichGroup
2003After ImageFruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh, ScotlandGroup
2003Claude Cahun, Francesca Woodman and Justine KurlandSusanne Hilberry Gallery, Ferndale, MIGroup
2003Flesh Tones - 100 Years of the NudeRobert Mann Gallery, New York City, NYGroup
2002Il grande freddo - The Big Chill (A. V.)Galleria In Arco, TurinGroup
2002Performative ImagesSmart Museum of Art, Chicago, ILGroup
2001Relative PositionsContemporary Arts Museum Houston, Houston, TXGroup
2001The Big Id James Cohan Gallery, New York City, NYGroup
2000Francesca Woodman. Providence, Roma, New YorkPalazzo delle Esposizioni, RomeSolo
2000Something About the GirlBernard Toale Gallery, Boston, MAGroup
2000Collecting Ideas: Works from the Collection of Polly and Mark AddisonDenver Art Museum,Denver, COGroup
2000RawVictoria Miro Gallery, LondonGroup
1992Francesca Woodman : Photographische ArbeitenWestfälischer Kunstverein, MünsterSolo
1992Francesca Woodman : Photographische ArbeitenShedhalle, ZurichSolo
1988Francesca Woodman: Photographic WorkKrannert Art Museum, Champaign, ILSolo