Even though Francesca Woodman was a little-known twenty-two-year-old RISD graduate at the time of her death, post-humous celebrations have unearthed her as one of the most captivating figures of 20th-century photography. A spectral and anachronistic presence with her unruly Edwardian bouffant, heavy-lidded eyes, and old-fashioned prairie girl wardrobe, Woodman’s self-portraits portray her as more of a 19th- century gothic novel heroine than 1970s American adolescent. Usually depicting Woodman crouching, hovering, or preternaturally fading into her decrepit environs – floral wallpaper peeling and wooden floorboards bare – her brief body of work is a glimpse into the psyche of a young woman artist trying on her sexuality, exorcising her demons, and first wielding the scepter of artist. Divorced from knowledge of Woodman’s ultimate demise by suicide in 1981, the work is inspired and eerily empowering. Paired with knowledge of Woodman’s ultimate fate, the work is a tale about the pains of being too tapped in.
Edited by SFMOMA’s photographic curator Corey Keller – and released on the eve of SFMOMA’s Francesca Woodman retrospective – this spectacular volume from D.A.P sheds new light on Woodman’s oft-debated oeuvre. Keller does an excellent job of reframing the heavily-mythologized artist as a regular human whose works were more the result of adolescent experimentation than explicit message. Trailing Woodman’s output from her freshman year at RISD in 1975 to her demise in the L.E.S in 1981 – with stints in Italy and at the McDowell Artists Colony in New Hampshire in between – this monograph features never-before-seen works and expository essays from Keller, Jennifer Blessing and Julia Bryan-Wilson. Listed on American Photo’s books of the year list, this book is an important edition to any photography book collection.