Francesca Woodman Fragments in Italy
by Elena Lago
«In 1865, young Lewis Payne tried to assassinate Secretary of State W. H. Seward. Alexander Gardner photographed him in his cell, where he was waiting to be hanged. The photograph is handsome, as is the boy: that is the
This complexity that embodies life and at the same time death is constant in Francesca Woodman’s photographs: a long series of self-portraits that show a sort of predicted catastrophe (the death of the author), but at the same time attract us because they are extremely vital. Francesca Woodman was born in Denver, Colorado, in 1958. Daughter of artists, since her adolescence she came into contact with the world of photography and enrolled, in 1975, at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) in Providence. Here, the first contact with Rome, thanks to the European studies program, based in Palazzo Cenci. Woodman is in Rome between May ‘77 and August ‘78 and immediately spends time at the Maldoror Bookshop in Via del Parione, a magical place that animates her stay. She finds, thanks to the owners Missigoi and Casetti, that cultural climate that allows her to establish a
In the embrace of the reflection we can almost see the figure of the Ovidian Narcissus who embraces the pool of water and recognizes his beloved, even though – once he discovers he has been deceived by a reflection of himself – with his desperate tears falling into the water, he shatters his image. In the same
Francesca Woodman is certainly influenced by the surrealist poetics and the works of Claude Cahun. The mind immediately goes to a photo that she takes in Providence in ‘75, lying inside a cupboard, inspired by Cahun’s photo where she is sleeping in the same position, inside a dresser. With Claude Cahun, the photographer shares not only the use of the self-portrait as a tool to acquire the knowledge of her
Lorenzo Fusi, in the essay The mask in the work of Francesca Woodman states: «The artist uses a series of instrumental topoi such as the mirror, the gloves, the mask or the negation of her own face, artifices that enable her to look at herself from a greater distance”. But also, we could add, to take the appearance of the space that surrounds her, as the nature or a bare room of an abandoned factory. For example in photos in which the artist disappears behind a fireplace or in others where she seems to magically disappear behind the wallpaper, camouflaging herself with the wall behind her.
Mimicry is the subject of a study by Roger Caillois published in 1958 and dedicated to the game as a natural human attitude. Among the various categories, Caillois talks about mimicry (about what he had already written in an article on Minotaure, in 1935) describing it as, for us, the pleasure of becoming someone else or something else. In the case of Woodman, hers are attempts of “mimicry” made in front of a camera, in a sort of metamorphosis, of “extension” of her body towards the world that surrounds her. In this sense, the long-exposure photos highlight the trajectory of a movement or the dissolution of a figure in space. Time, therefore, is a fundamental principle for Woodman and also it is explicitly represented in the series Fish Calendar – 6 days (Rome, 1977).
It is a photographic
The limbs, especially in this series, are always shot separately from the rest of the body, the camera is not positioned frontally or in a linear manner, but in distorted angles in order to photograph half the body or from above. Again, the juxtaposition with the eels wants to produce
They are yellowed pages probably from the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th on which she printed or glued 15 of her photos, next to or above the exercises, generating