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Francesca Woodman Photo

Francesca Woodman

American Photographer

Born: April 3, 1958 - Denver, Colorado
Died: January 19, 1981 - New York City
"I feel like I am floating in plasma. I need a teacher or a lover. I need someone to risk being involved with me. I am so vain and I am so masochistic."
1 of 7
Francesca Woodman
"Am I in the picture? Am I getting in or out of it? I could be a ghost, an animal or a dead body, not just this girl standing on the corner...?"
2 of 7
Francesca Woodman
"I was inventing a Language for people to see..."
3 of 7
Francesca Woodman
"Real things don't frighten me just the ones in my mind do."
4 of 7
Francesca Woodman
"I finally managed to try to do away with myself, as neatly and concisely as possible.... I would rather die young leaving various accomplishments, some work, my friendship with you, and some other artifacts intact, instead of pell-mell erasing all of these delicate things."
5 of 7
Francesca Woodman
"I feel like I am floating in plasma
I need a teacher or a lover
I need someone to risk being involved with me.
I am so vain
and I am so masochistic.
How can they coexist?"
6 of 7
Francesca Woodman
"I would like words to have the same relationship with my images as the photographs have with the text [quoting from] Nadja by André Breton."
7 of 7
Francesca Woodman

Summary of Francesca Woodman

Francesca Woodman produced universally commanding and profound images from the age of thirteen. Born into a family of artists, 'art' was her first language. She experienced early exposure to a plethora of exemplary creative people along with countless potential historical, literary, and theoretical influences. Woodman worked with traditional photographic techniques but was consistently performative and experimental in her practice. Many of her works are multi-media, including drawings, selected objects, and sculptures within her photographs. Settings may vary from confined interiors to the expansive outdoors, but Woodman herself is always there. Typically the sole subject, and often naked, she can be found caught entwined within a landscape or edging out of the photographic frame. Interested in the limits of representation, the artist's body is habitually cropped, endlessly concealed, and never wholly captured. Woodman was acutely aware of the evanescent nature of life and of living close to death. She positions the self as too limitless to be contained, and thus reveals singular identity as an elusive and fragmentary notion.


  • Woodman was not interested in 'mass culture'. Whilst artists such as Cindy Sherman and Richard Prince re-worked and subverted contemporary film stills and icons of advertising during the late 1970s, Woodman upheld a more timeless view interested in classical myths, commonplace objects, and explorations of nature and the self.
  • Woodman practiced techniques of long-exposure as means to capture movement, blur, and sometimes total disappearance. She was interested in what photography as a medium does with time, disrupting the linear flow between the past, present, and future. As a female artist, these interests made her work unusual for its time, for whilst Feminist artists were boldly affirming individual presence, Woodman privileged trace, absence, and reflection.
  • Although Woodman did not have much in common with American mainstream straight photography of her era, it is important to remember that other forms of American and European modernist practice greatly inspired and influenced her work. She had avidly studied Surrealism and knew well the experimental images of Duane Michaels along with those of other American photographers interested in an alternative tradition.
  • Woodman read stylistically Gothic literature rich with symbols of tombs, derelict and ruined buildings, mirrors, and angels. Many of these stories featured female protagonists forcibly imprisoned for so-called madness or hysteria, and as such considered existence from a liminal perspective where life and death writhe, straggle, and intersect. Woodman strives to make visible the perpetual state of anxiety that she experiences walking through life with death constantly on her mind.
  • Woodman committed suicide at age 22 and in the shadow of this fact a film of sadness covers her photographs. The viewer looks for clues as to how and why the young, beautiful, and talented woman took her own life. Woodman gives privileged insight to a suicidal mind, and engages the viewer by presenting her personal story as inseparable from her art.

Important Art by Francesca Woodman

Progression of Art

Self-Portrait at Thirteen

In this self-portrait at the age of thirteen, one of Woodman's first, she photographs herself turning her head away from the camera in a debut gesture of defiance against usual portrait photography in which we expect to see the face of the sitter. Woodman holds a rod to release the shutter which once intentionally blurred and out of focus transforms to become an otherworldly shard of darkness. Her face is covered completely by her hair and the space around her is composed of fragmented elements, including a door, the under lit bench upon which she sits, and an empty chair.

The work already possesses many of the qualities that define the artist's oeuvre more generally. By including the camera cord she makes it clear that she herself is the author of her image, and through the use of techniques of long-exposure, an unusual low perspective, and the play of extreme light and dark she shows that she is not making 'straight' and easy to digest photography. Somewhat paradoxically, through the use of a square format she introduces her interest in traditional 19th-century techniques to capture and print images.

Like many of her works, the photograph portrays a moment between adolescence and adulthood, exploring aspects of both presence and absence. For the art historian Chris Townsend these are works that "stop being about aesthetics, and they're about the properties of photography". This particular picture bears many similarities to a photograph taken by Duane Michaels in the same year, a black and white portrait of Joseph Cornell. The parallel affirms Woodman and Michael's shared interest in conjuring mystical atmosphere, and highlights the fact that Woodman was powerfully influenced by the work of others. Woodman had encountered Michael's work in exhibitions.

Photograph, Gelatin silver print - Miro Gallery, The Estate of Francesca Woodman


Untitled, Boulder, Rhode Island

This picture, taken in Boulder, Woodman's hometown in Rhode Island, features the artist intertwined with the roots of a tree. Immersed in the water, the artist's horizontal naked body is supported by the undergrowth. Her long hair floats, whilst her fair skin provides good contrast to the dark shadows cast all around. In the background there are gravestones, revealing that the tree is situated on the edge of a burial site. Woodman's hair, her legs, and the roots of the tree all become serpent-like in their curves. As such the picture recalls the Christian creation story and Woodman becomes associated with Eve. Like the first woman on the earth she is an active agent for change, and pursues the forbidden fruit of knowledge to both a creative and destructive end.

The work unites life and death. There is a reference to birth as Woodman appears to emerge from a watery (possibly in-uterine) environment, but at the same time we imagine the end of life when buried beneath the surface. Both Ana Mendieta and Frida Kahlo also depicted themselves as trees. As such we recall the classical Greek goddess, Daphne, who when under attack, in a gesture of self-perseverance, transformed her body into a tree. Furthermore, the floating female body in water is also reminiscent of Ophelia, the Shakespearian character who fell from a tree overhanging the river and there floated until her death.

Woodman worked frequently outdoors as well as in the studio. This disrupts the typical Feminist reading of the artist's indoor projects of just a young woman protesting against the oppressive confines of her life. Such 'oppression' was generally linked to the artist's struggle against the expectation to be a 'good' or 'angelic' woman. Yet as a seeming paradox, Woodman felt a profound personal connection to nature. This link is 'problematic' for some intellectuals because it suggests that there is an 'essential' and intuitive way to be female, rather than supporting the argument triggered by Woodman's indoor works, that gender is wholly constructed and as such should be challenged. This though, is the feat of Francesca Woodman, to expose character as complex and multi-layered and not easily definable. Woodman also photographed herself close up to the gravestones here featured in the distance. The image recalls Woodman's interest in gothic literature, and the art critic James McMillian accentuates such connections, when he writes that these works unearth in him, "Poe's macabre humor as well as the death-driven juxtapositions prevalent in Emily Dickinson's poems."

Photograph, Gelatin silver print - The Estate of Francesca Woodman


From Space2 series, Providence

Taken in black and white, Space2 features Woodman standing naked against a wall between two large windows, merging her body entirely with the surrounding environment by covering parts of herself with discarded wallpaper. She is working in a derelict building and art historian Chris Townsend has suggested that the work may have been directly inspired by a Victorian novella called 'The Yellow Wallpaper' (1892), in which a woman is forcibly confined to a room by her husband. As such Woodman exposes the idea of silencing and hiding women in domestic settings.

However, like Louise Bourgeois' in her drawings and sculptures of the 'femme maison', Woodman appears to absorb strength from her own disintegration. If the house is considered as a protective dwelling place it could then be considered substitute for our first dwelling place, that of the womb. Thus the themes of imprisonment, growth, and nourishment all combine. A house, like the body of a woman, is a vast field of memory; a derelict house holds within it as much haunting traces of the past, as it does future possibilities for what can grow in the dwelling. In this sense we are reminded of the interior plaster cast made of a whole 'home' by London based artist, Rachel Whiteread.

As part of her Space series, Woodman also includes images of her body 'trapped' inside a glass vitreen, and pictures in which she explores the dissolution of her body inside an empty room. Like the Surrealists, she explores notions of presence and absence, existence and non-existence, and repeatedly poses the question, Who Am I? Adding yet another layer to these discussions, art critic Ken Johnson also recognizes the influence of Deborah Turbeville (fashion photographer who Woodman admired), which he sees here in the "lushly shadowed and textured scenes".

Photograph, Gelatin silver print - The Estate of Francesca Woodman


On Being an Angel #1, Providence, Rhode Island

Through the simple gesture of tipping her head back and then flipping the photograph over completely Woodman disconcerts the viewer's traditional way of looking at the world. In On Being an Angel #1, the artist reclines backwards, naked, exposing her shoulders and chest, as she looks straight into the camera. The space around her is dark, creating deep contrast to her highlighted body. Framed upside down, the artist appears to be floating, and utterly disrupts our usual sense of perspective. It is the first picture of the larger body of work that explores the Woodman's recurring interest of being an angel. The angel is an intermediate figure, a heavenly being that spends some time on earth, and it is this position situated between two opposites where Woodman often finds herself. Woodman is recorded to have said that she disliked the term 'self-portrait', and claimed that she merely used herself as a model for a matter of convenience, emphasizing that the importance of the work is always in her chosen themes.

As an 'angel' unable to get back to the heavens, there are strong undertones of frustration in this work. Indeed, in later photographs also part of the angel series, this frustration develops into aggression as Woodman writhes and screams in front of a paint-splattered wall. The violent gesture of paint throwing in these later works re-casts the angel series with a sacrificial and murderous quality that recalls the work of Ana Mendieta. Furthermore, Virginia Woolf famously writes of 'killing the angel in the house'. Woolf writes how 'the shadow of her wings fell on my page' and expresses the need to slay her because her goodness has been born following years upon years of subjugation of women. It may indeed be the case that Woodman similarly attempts to banish the angel as an attack on patriarchy and assertion of individual female strength.

The work also bares similarities with Man Ray's erotic Anatomies photograph (1929), a further inspiration for Woodman. As is typical, the artist depicts herself naked revealing her need for tactility and sensuality. The works possess a certain fetishism, which is a theme explored by Woodman.

Photograph, Gelatin silver print - The Estate of Francesca Woodman


Untitled, Rome, Italy

This work - like most of Woodman's photographs - is untitled, marked only by date and location. Like a difficult theoretical or philosophical text, she does not gently lead the viewer to meaning but instead commands a certain level of active engagement to be able to understand what she is trying to do.

In this work Woodman makes her own wings using white sheets. The wings are suspended from the ceiling of a large warehouse where Woodman jumps into the air before them, captured in motion as she attempts to take flight. She further continues exploration of the theme of the angel, a messenger from heaven on earth, a concept that reminds us of the spirit realms, of prophecy, and guidance.

Angels have long since been associated with the personality type of melancholy ever since Albrecht Dürer made an engraving on the subject in 1514. Dürer's angel sits heavy and laden, not due to laziness but instead because of a frustration, bound to the mundane all the while when she has celestial ideas. This is a notion not only taken up by Woodman, but also by many other female Surrealists, and as such a major international group exhibition called Angels of Anarchy took place in Manchester, UK in 2009.

Following her initial experiments on the theme done in the US, this picture and all later images in the series were made in Rome. Woodman traveled to Rome after her graduation, and lived there for a year as part of the Rhode Island's School of Design's Rome Honors Program. Whilst in Italy, the young artist was deeply inspired by Baroque fountains, Italian architecture, and especially by the Surrealist and Symbolist books that she found at the Maldoror bookshop.

Art critic Ken Johnson describes her work as a: "borderline kitschy style, a heated mix of Victorian gothic, Surrealism and 19th-century spirit photography", of which this photograph is a good example. Alan Riding more emotionally suggests that Woodman is "inviting the viewer to help find her". For him, the work portrays a sort of 'disappearing act', a desire to de-materialize and portray the immaterial essence that defines her - being an angel.

Photograph, Gelatin silver print - The Estate of Francesca Woodman


Untitled, Rome, Italy

This picture, also taken during Woodman's year in Rome, features the artist wearing a long black dress, standing against the wall of an abandoned building, pulling her hair up, as if defying gravity. In the photograph that follows in the same series, she jumps, contemplating her earth-bound existence in a similar way to the angel wing works.

Here the artist's hair rises above her, extended and tower-like as though receiving powers from above. Indeed, she is fascinated by flowing locks, both when loose and connected to the body, and when cut and detached. In earlier photographs she depicts a man lying on the floor with severed hair all around him, and in 1975 she made the work Lisa used to have long hair, in which her friend has severed strands all over her chest. The suggestion is usually (as has also been explored by Frida Kahlo and Rebecca Horn) that cutting one's hair is done in response to trauma, and specifically to the devastating situation of a failed love relationship. The cutting of hair serves to signify the loss of a much-sought connection, either this, or it is a gesture of severing ones childish tresses and becoming all grown-up.

Here particularly there is no severance but instead Woodman's hair becomes an aggrandizing force. Like the formidable architecture that surrounded her in Rome she becomes a supportive architectural feature, a column or a tower, therefore looking forward to her Studies for the Temple project that she started once she had returned home.

Photograph, Gelatin silver print - The Estate of Francesca Woodman


Untitled, Rome, Italy

Suspended from a doorframe with her face turned and arms raised, this image is hauntingly Christ-like in appearance. The door itself bears the pattern of a crucifix and the artist dangles there as though nailed to the cross. In this sense, she positions herself as a martyr just as other artists had done before her (Paul Gauguin, Vincent Van Gogh, and Frida Kahlo - for example), spending time on earth dispersing a message when all the while she must suffer for her efforts. Indeed, the work looks forward to the artist's suicide, for many lives are taken by hanging. Equally, she depicts herself in the bathtub, another common place to end ones life. Otherwise (having ended her life by jumping from a high window) she constantly depicts her-self mid-air, and in this sense, potentially gives 'clues' to the viewer that she is nearing her death, or at the least, maintaining a certain leitmotif.

Overall in this work, Woodman further explores liminal themes of the visible and invisible, the possible and the impossible, and the threshold between life and death. Next to the doorframe is a poster of geometrical shapes, as though trying to infuse a difficult emotional scene with a small taste of reassuring mathematical order. The art critic Kyle MacMillian writes of Woodman that "she wanted to evoke the elusive, the transient realm between what is and isn't". This view is further supported by the words of art critic Ken Jonhson who says that she "oscillates between the heavenly and the earthly", and is supported by art critic Elizabeth Gumport claim that Woodman's pictures "call to mind corpses, or ghosts, as if the wall between our world and the spirit realm had begun to fall".

Photograph, Gelatin silver print - The Estate of Francesca Woodman


Self-Portrait, birch sleeves

This photograph depicts Woodman wearing a dress with a pattern reminiscent of tree bark; meanwhile she looks coyly downwards at the exquisite birch tree cuffs that protectively encircle her arms. As in earlier works, the artist becomes a tree, and further explores her interest in metamorphosis. French intellectual, Roger Caillois wrote in detail about such desires having studied the behavior of insects. He came to the conclusion that creatures camouflage themselves, not as one may think, as a defensive mechanism, but rather in response to a disturbance in their perception of space. He warns, that although useful for animals, taken to the extreme the process of mimicry can be dangerous for humans, for this level of metamorphosis between the self and the surrounding environment disrupts being able to exist as an individual in society. Suddenly ones sense of self dissolves into a feeling of connectivity to all that surrounds them. Sigmund Freud may have identified this feeling as the 'death drive', a longing for an earlier state of being.

More generally relevant to this work, art critic Ken Jonhson, claims that Woodman "plays out a high-low struggle between innocence and experience, the spiritual and the carnal and the angelic and the demonic", all the while emphasizing dualities and opposing emotions. Here we become privy to the artist's vulnerability, and her innocence. Ken Jonhson sensitively suggests, "It was not only her body that she exposed - she bared her soul". Here she even reveals her suicidal tendencies to the viewer; the beautiful tree bark on her arms is sadly reminiscent of bandages, and thus becomes an alternative natural covering for imaginary slit wrists. Woodman looks down hopefully, as though summoning the powers and comforts of nature as the only possibility to heal her troubled mind.

Photograph, Gelatin silver print - The Estate of Francesca Woodman


Study for Temple Project, New York

This photograph is part of an unfinished project called Study for the Temple project. The piece belongs to a body of work that began in the Spring of 1980 as part of a school project which was designed to explore the recreation of Greek temples through the use of draped female bodies, creating a connection between women as psychologically supportive structures in the same way that Greek statues physically adorn the temple of Diana in Athens.

The picture portrays a model (likely Woodman herself), draped in cloth, shielding her face with crossed hands, standing static against a white background. The artist becomes a living caryatid, at once aggrandized and burdened by the weight of a large imaginary structure.

Woodman was initially inspired by details of bathrooms in New York City that had been designed with classical references in mind. This image is also an example of Woodman's ongoing explorations with new techniques, themes, and subjects. Here in particular she experiments with large format diazotypes (a dry photographic process on paper that uses diazonium, UV light, and ammonia vapor), which is a technique that is also used for architectural plans and results in bluish and sepia tones. As usual for Woodman, there is a combination of interests in technique, medium, and theme - all at work simultaneously.

Diazotype - The Estate of Francesca Woodman


Some Disordered Interior Geometries, New York

Here we see an open page of Woodman's last photographic book, Some Disordered Interior Geometries featuring two photographs from a collection of work collaged into an already existing 24 page geometry book (which she had found in her favorite bookshop in Rome, Liberia Maldoror). The book uses the artist's well-rehearsed device of pointing to a rational system as a way to expose, and better contemplate its opposite, ie the 'disordered' landscape of interior emotions. Indeed she attempts to bring a semblance of structure to chaos by using both reliable geometry and a linear book format. Human reality it seems is not as straight forward as mathematics, but Woodman uses the certainty of geometry as a way of thinking about abstract ides. Woodman had found five other old school books in the secondhand bookshop in Rome, but Some Disordered Interior Geometries was the only one completed and published, released to the public just days before her suicide.

Woodman loved the work of André Breton, and in particular his book Nadja and had said that she wanted her text and photographs to have a similar communication between one another as these elements do for Breton. Depicted here naked from the waist down with clothes strewn all around, she writes beneath her pictures, "These things arrived from my Grandmother... they make me think about where I fit in the odd geometry of time...". The work becomes extremely intimate. The fact that we are viewing a book, the act of holding such an object and turning its pages becomes a sensual experience, and as such recalls the tactile relationships between family generations. Art critic James McMillian writes that upon viewing Woodman's book works that a conflict is resolved and some level of angst dissipates.

Artist's book with 16 gelatin silver prints - The Estate of Francesca Woodman

Date Unknown

Portrait of a Reputation

This is another important bookwork by Woodman. It is undated and unpublished but well exposes her multitude of connections with Surrealism. This is an early photograph in the series in which she remains clothed and wears a single glove. As the series progresses she removes all of her clothes, and then finally, the glove. Once fully naked she outlines one hand across her chest. These handprints soon become solid prints, the index of her own self, touching her breast and groin. In the final images in the series, Woodman's body has disappeared altogether and all that remains are her handprints.

The handprints on the wall remind the viewer of primordial cave art, of the primary signature mark and early expression of identity of an ancient people. Furthermore, the handprints recall Ana Mendieta's Body Track series (1982) in which the artist drags down two red handprints from the top to the bottom of a large canvas. Finally, the inky fragmented body parts also make reference to the collaborative series made by Meret Oppenheim and Man Ray, Oppenheim at the Printing Wheel (1933). Like the Surrealists before her, Woodman shows interest in the process of making art and in particular here, how the negative and positive relate to one another in photographic development.

Also inspired by Surrealism is the use of the single glove. She did a further series of images with a friend in a café depicting a lost glove and this is one of the motifs well remembered from Breton's Nadja. There is a great sense of loneliness expressed by the arresting vision of a single glove. It as though longing suddenly occurs for the other glove and the imagination craves that the two objects be united. This seems to be a metaphor for relationships, as though the individual human without a partner feels a sense of mourning for attachment. This said however, apart from fleeting union, the reality of existence is that it is something experienced alone. Celebrity singer Michael Jackson, equally interested in questions of existence and in the meaning of the human condition, took up the same idea and only ever wore one glove.

Biography of Francesca Woodman


Francesca Woodman was born in Denver in 1958. She was the daughter of two American artists, George Woodman, a painter and photographer who held a teaching post in art criticism at the University of Colorado, and Betty Woodman, an increasingly important ceramic artist. Growing up in Boulder, surrounded entirely by painters, filmmakers, and critics, Francesca was close to her older brother Charles, himself an aspiring video-artist.

Whilst they were children, Charles and Francesca's home acted as a creative and social hub for the art community of the town. Art critic Ken Johnson accurately stated, "the real family religion was art". As such, art making defined a way of life, both socially and personally for the Woodmans, thus making it "all but pre-ordained that Woodman would become an artist" according to the art critic, Kyle Macmillian. Today, Betty Woodman continues to live and make ceramic art in New York City. Charles Woodman is an electronic artist working in video and expanded media, based at the University of Cincinnati. George Woodman died in 2017.

Education and Early Training

In 1963, Woodman began attending a public school in Boulder, interrupted only in 1965 when the family re-located to live in Italy for a year. The family ignited a shared passion for Italy and European culture at this time and as a result, George and Betty bought a house in Antella, a small town in the neighboring lands of Florence, in 1968, where they spent every summer from then on.

In 1972, at age 13, Woodman began high school at the Abbott Academy, a private Massachusetts boarding school, taking along the camera that her father had given her and her already blossoming interest in photography. At school she attended a photography class, learning basic skills and starting her own projects. She found valuable guidance in one of her teachers, Wendy Snyder MacNeil. Woodman later said that she was always in need of a lover or a teacher to bring her reassurance.

In 1975 she moved to Providence to study at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), one of the oldest and best art schools in the United States, where the established photographer Aaron Siskind became one of her teachers. Here she was also heavily inspired by Doug Prince, a tutor whose work centered around the complex printing of composite negatives. During that time, she lived in an industrial studio and had become fully devoted to photography. Described as being 'loyal and intense' and being the kind of person that one either loves or hates, writer and journalist Betsy Borne, her colleague and friend at the time, further wrote that Woodman was "an old fashioned artist, the professionally unprofessional variety that can never get with the programme that passes for real life. She did not choose to be an artist - who in their right mind would? She simply was one".

During Summers spent in Italy, Woodman became fascinated with La Specola, the Museum of Natural History in Florence, making friends with the guards so that she could be allowed in to take pictures when the museum was shut to the public. After her graduation in 1978, she went to live in Rome for a whole year, as part of the School of Design's Rome Honors Program. American artist Edith Schloss was one of her professors also based in Rome at the time. Schloss's work was included in an exhibition at the Libreria Maldoror, a bookshop and gallery full of literature on Surrealism that became another favorite place of Woodman's in the city.

Woodman is generally said to have disliked the label 'self-portrait' and was known for taking her work paradoxically intensely seriously and very playfully. Art critic Will Brand claims that "she was headstrong, self-absorbed, and immensely driven" and that the nudity of her images showed "an expression of her openness".

Mature Period

Francesca Woodman in the New York studio of artist Filippo Giansanti (c. 1980-81)

In 1979 Woodman moved to New York, where she lived in various places, including with her parents. She worked part-time as a photographer's assistant and considered working in fashion photography. During this period, Woodman was upset following a failed romantic relationship and troubled by the fact that her work was not yet gaining enough attention. Despite these concerns, people around Woodman did not fear for her mental health or consider her to be depressed. Art critic Ken Johnson even said that she had a "terrific charisma" at this point and her father, likewise, described her as someone with an "incredible sensibility". Perhaps the only words that suggest the sadness soon to come are those of Alex Riding, who expressed the opinion that in exploring complex themes and pushing herself to the limits, Woodman was "unaware of the dangers involved, like a moth flying ever closer to a candle flame". At this time, Woodman continued to work as prolifically and intensely as she had done since the age of 13.

In 1980, Woodman was awarded a summer fellowship as an artist in residence at the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough. She thoroughly appreciated the opportunity to work undisturbed, with her own darkroom and studio, and made some powerful work, mostly outside immersed in the new landscape that she was exploring. At the beginning of 1981, she witnessed the publication of one of her notebooks that she had been working on since 1976 in the form of a book entitled Some Disordered Interior Geometries.


Shortly after her first publication, at age 22, Francesca Woodman committed suicide by jumping from a loft building on the East Side of New York City. At the time of her death "hardly anyone beyond her family, friends, classmates, and teachers knew about the phenomenal body of work she had produced" art critic Ken Johnson explains.

Her father suggests that her suicide was related to an unsuccessful application for an arts fund, an idea echoed by art critic Rachel Cooke who claims that she was scared and troubled by the competitive nature of the art world. However, her mother Betty claims that "things were not rosy and wonderful for Francesca" emphasizing her depressive tendencies as the cause of her suicide. The likelihood is that the decision to take her life was the result of a culmination of various factors.

The Legacy of Francesca Woodman

Francesca Woodman at Leo Castelli gallery in NYC, Andy Warhol show (c. 1980-81)

A year after her death, Ann Gabhart, the director of the Wellesley Art Museum, upon seeing Woodman's work at her parent's house, decided to organize an exhibition. The show opened some years later, in 1986 and was visited and reviewed by the established art critics Abigail Solomon-Godeau and Rosalind Krauss.

Since then, and especially since the beginning of the 1990s, recognition of Woodman's work has steadily increased. Even though only a quarter of her 800 photographs have at this point been made public (with the rest remaining private in the artist's estate maintained by her parents), she is generally considered a prolific young prodigy whose work expresses great emotive depth and continues to challenge perceptions of identity and the medium of photography even to this day. Art critic Michèle Kieffer claims "Woodman has become an icon, a 'rock star' of contemporary photography".

It is generally considered that her suicide influences the way that her artwork is perceived, as emphasized by art critic Alan Riding, when he claims that this awareness provokes "an almost unconscious search for evidence of impending self-destruction in her powerful and often disturbing self-portraiture". An opinion also validated by art critic Kyle Macmillian, who claims that "the cultish romanticism that grew up around her suicide long clouded serious discussions of her work". In this context Woodman can be mistakenly labeled as a tragic victim, or as a raging feminist. It is important, however, to look beyond the desire to firmly classify such an illusive oeuvre. The growing interest in her work, propelled by the various solo exhibitions, documentaries, and books produced in both the United States and Europe, support a more subtle and outward reaching view of such multi-layered and complex imagery.

Artists who suffer for some sort of depression and/or periods of psychological distress are undoubtedly attracted to this body of work. Woodman manages to give voice struggles within which typically render sufferers mute. She also acts as an unsurpassable inspiration for students and young people starting artistic careers; they are very few figures that successfully produce such mature art during the transitional phase between being a child and becoming an adult.

Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Francesca Woodman
Influenced by Artist
Friends & Personal Connections
  • No image available
    Edith Schloss
  • No image available
    Betsy Berne
  • No image available
    Sloan Rankin
Movements & Ideas
Open Influences
Close Influences

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Content compiled and written by Sarah Frances Dias

Edited and revised, with Summary and Accomplishments added by Rebecca Baillie

"Francesca Woodman Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Sarah Frances Dias
Edited and revised, with Summary and Accomplishments added by Rebecca Baillie
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First published on 16 Dec 2017. Updated and modified regularly
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