Angel

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Francesca Woodman-Untitled Rome 1977-1979

One of the most remarkable aspects of Francesca Woodman’s astounding photographs that she produced between the ages of 13 to 22 is that it forms such a cohesive body of work. There is no juvenilia (in the sense of immature work that shows future potential), no false starts or dramatic u-turns. It appears that as soon as she took her first self-portrait at 13 that she had her own unique vision which she followed for the next nine years, never wavering and never deviating from once.

Growing up in an artistic household, both her parents are artists, the precocious Francesca had a thorough grasp of Dada and Surrealism by the age of 11. Francesca acknowledged the influence of Surrealism on her work, particularly Man Ray’s portraits of Meret Oppenheim and Andre Breton’s seminal Surrealist novel Nadja which was accompanied by photographs by J. A Boiffard. One of her early photographs features herself dressed up as Alice In Wonderland, the influence of which upon the Surrealists cannot be over-estimated. Also evident is the influence of the Gothic novel. Francesca favoured slow shutter speeds and long exposures which resulted in a blurry, ghostly images inhabiting the ominous, decrepit buildings where she set her photographs.

The above photograph was taken during her student year in Rome. A stunningly stage-managed yet otherworldly self-portrait, her posture hanging from the door lintel suggests both an ascending angel and a crucifixion. This is not the only question this magnificently enigmatic photograph raises; every object in the room seems to hold a coded significance.

Tragically Francesca, suffering from depression which was exacerbated by a broken relationship and the lack of recognition that her work had received, committed suicide by jumping from a New York loft window at the age of 22.

66 thoughts on “Angel

  1. Fantastic post on Francesca Woodman, Mr. Cake. You selected an incredible image. Just to say she was brilliant, hardly scratches the surface. Have you seen the documentary, “The Woodmans”? The family dynamics is interesting (scary) to say the least. ~ Miss Cranes

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Miss Cranes I only discovered this artist today while browsing in a book store. I felt kind of like Mishima did when he said that the image of St Sebastian he found in a book only purpose had been was to lie in wait for him. I was stunned. So I have been busy researching and looking at her amazing oeurve. I only hope I paid her a hundredth of the justice she deserves. I will look for the documentary which I saw mentioned several times. I just wanted to communicate the force of the revelation this photograph had while it was still fresh. Don’t I deserve a like?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. My comment went to spam I believe because I included a link to the documentary!

        I did like it… I see my “like” there! Oh my, Francesca Woodman is my go to girl, like Man Ray and Lee Miller are for you. Her work is amazing. I was so pleased to see her image on your site! WOW! *wink* Cake has good taste! The documentary is well worth watching. One would think it would be primarily about her, NO, keep her mother, Betty in mind while watching it (her father is great). I’m interested in your impression after watching it.

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  2. This is a stunning photo. It’s no mean feat for her to hang in that position. And the man’s shirt on the chair? What of the rest of the objects in the room? I admit I’m missing the significance… But obviously quite a talent. Such a tragedy.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I havent cracked the code, I just found the position of the chair to be unusual and very prominent. The cut-off picture also seems to beg a question. Maybe I am reading too much into it but I don’t think so. I will definitely be writing about some of her other work which is equally stunning. Can you see why I was immediately taken with this image?

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  3. I did like it… I see my “like” there! Oh my, Francesca Woodman is my go to girl, like Man Ray and Lee Miller are for you. Her work is amazing. I was so pleased to see her image on your site! WOW! *wink* Cake has good taste! Here is a link to a YouTube of the documentary:
    =>https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5zqNUdtCwkU It’s well worth watching. One would think it would be primarily about her, NO, keep her mother, Betty in mind while watching it (her father is great). I’m interested in your impression after watching it. Even if you only watch the first 5 minutes you will get the vibe on Betty.

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    1. Sorry I was premature in asking for a like, it is definitely there. I was bowled over completely by this photo and when I looked at her other work I was even more, like I said she seemed to have complete assuredness and maturity right from the get go.I am going to watch it now.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hmmm I wrote you a very long reply but it wouldn’t send. It was very heartbreaking, the dynamic is interesting to say the least, to have every member of the family involved in the arts must make for a strained atmosphere, especially when the mother says she would hate anyone not involved. My heart went out to the father, they were obviously incredibly close and it struck a chord. I think my central contention regarding her aesthetic and talent being fully formed from the start stills hold, she is reminiscent of Rimbaud in that respect. A stunning body of work. Thank you miss cranes for the link

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      2. You’re most welcome. Yes, her connection with her father I believe was very strong. If I remember correctly after her death, he pretty much stopped painting and has devoted himself to photography.

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      3. I know really, what in the world? Not to mention I thought the film would be more centered around Francesca, instead we see Betty’s art, her creative process and the installation!?! Was it just me, or were you a little surprised by this?

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Well mothers can often have difficult relationships with their teenaged daughters, what happens when the daughter is Sui generius in an area where you have spent your life building a reputation? She does say that she was angry because she was also an artist. Thank you so much for sharing that link. It really touched a nerve with me.

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  4. Oh wow. Amazing, stunning, surreal. Aside from the obvious near shock of her position…I wonder why her head is turned (shame?), I see what looks like a ring on her finger, electrical cords to something out of view, the picture is slanted, and somehow she had to get up there, and it wasn’t by jumping. Someone was with her. Fascinating, Cake.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much, i am actually buzzing about her because to me she is a new discovery. The head turning looks like a few paintings of Jesus where his face is profile.I noticed the ring as well. her self-portraits conceal mre than they reveal

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Where and how did you discover this?

    It appears on first reflection to be religious imagery Christ like, I find this to be a beautiful image, (however) unsure of what this represents, if death then no its not beautiful.

    Life isn’t for everyone some people are to sensitive to deal with the reality of life, very sad that she killed herself at the young age of 22.

    Why? I know that will question will never be answered.

    Cake you are very clever to discover this.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I was just browsing in a book store at a art book when I came across this image. I was struck by it and took a careful note of the artist(I asked the shopgirl for a lend of a pen and wrote it on my wrist. I did a bit of research and found out more. Her work is outstanding, it is hard to believe that this was produced when only 19, and as I mentioned in the post, she seemed to a fully formed artist with a unique vision from the very start of her career at the age of 13. She has become quite the name in certain circles, as she deserves to be.

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  6. This is such a tragic story. Such an gifted young woman. Francesca’s work reveals a profound sense of despair. I can only imagine her suffering and profound sense of sadness and isolation, a detached an self absorbed mother. It’s just terribly heartbreaking. I am reminded of Sylvia Plath, her relationship with her father and betrayal by her husband and friend. Still, I am of the mind that depression and suicide is the culmination of a genetic link exacerbated by circumstance, Thank you for the link. I am glad you introduced me to Francesca.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. An incredibly gifted artist and so precocious, she reminds me in a way of Rimbaud. Very tragic. I have my own thoughts on depression and suicide which are a little odd. I agree that depression is a major causation in most suicides, but not necessarily all. You are right about the mother, a piece of work. I love introducing artists to people.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I often wonder about the number of artists and writers featured here who committed suicide. Writers particularly seem to have an exceptionally high suicide rate. Every case is different, but artists and writers seem drawn to the mythic and romantic aspects of suicide. I don’t doubt that Plath was depressed, but she staged it like a work of art with references to her poetry. The temptation to create a work of art out of life and death can seem irresistible. Mishima wasn’t depressed at all, morbid yes, but not depressed, he looked forward to his death his whole life. The American surrealist Kay Sage suicide seemed to be a result of grief, she had lost her soulmate, the person who shared her strangeness. The Surrealists as a whole were very prone to suicide, the whole movement in a way was conceived in the mental asylum and given birth by a suicide, but that is a whole other story. I am very ambivalent about the whole reductive approach to insanity (you notice I don’t say mental health) employed by the psychiatric profession, I am a keen reader of R.D Laing and Michel Foucault. More to follow.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That’s intriguing, I think Sylvia had a mental breakdown, but what you say is so true, she loved drama and perhaps that is why she played out her death as she did. Creative people tend to be fragile don’t you think? I look forward to more.

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      2. She knew that she would become legendary. I do not want to diminish her anguish in any way, because it was real and horrific, but I think she saw that would seal a mythic status. I will follow up shortly.

        Liked by 1 person

      1. Rimbaud from Charleville in the Ardennes. I know the place well. The surreal marionette festival they have there biannually is as brilliantly weird as the bloke himself.

        Liked by 1 person

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