Francesca Woodman

I looked into the life and work of Francesca Woodman and watched the documentary "The Woodmans', in which her parents talk about their daughter's life, how they look at her work now and how Francesca's life and death has influenced themselves and as artists. 

In a way Wood's images remind me of the photography of Arno Minkinen. His work is a collection of self-portraits, but are not so much auto biographical. The images show how the human body and forms communicate and fit within our natural environment. Even though in most of the images we see Arno's body, they don't tell a lot about who he is. In Francesca's images, you can see how she is positioning herself in relationship to her environment, experimenting with how her being impacts the surroundings. She situates herself in such a way that the boundaries between things and living beings become vaguer. 

As I listened to Francesca's friends and parents explaining her work, I could notice that they predominantly don't see it as a reflection of her state of mind, like Bright states (Bright, 2010, pg 25), but as a journey of experimenting with forms and texture and how art expresses itself. Her father says: 'The idea that art expresses yourself, that it's yourself what it's all about, was really distant for us, and when we look at someone else's art, we don't think, what does it tell us about the person, but what does the work say, forget the artist' - George Woodman

And her friend:
'Francesca Woodman was not trying to disappear as a representation of her state of mind when she was hiding behind a scrap of wallpaper. It was her making a parallel. how would it be to be that peeling paint or wallpaper? How does the human form relate to it?' and 'Her pictures are photos of a healthy person looking at a fragile interior' - Friend

I don't think one idea has to exclude the other. In a way art is always autobiographical, it is a reflection of what interests the artist visually, ideas and skills. You cannot see a work of art without getting to know aspects of the artist's personality, even though they may not be at all what they seem to be. I also think that for Francesca's parents it might be hard to even try to see her work as autobiographical, because it might be too painful and even confrontational if the evidence of Francesca's state of mind had been visible for years and they had not acknowledged the severity of her depression. 

Going back to comparing Woodman's images with Minkinen's work I notice that they are similar in the concept of how and where human fits in its environment, but that Minkinen's photographs don't show any expression of the person (or mostly body parts) in the photographs. You could say that his work is only autobiographical in the sense that the total of his work shows a great interest in nature, balance and a tranquil state of mind. Looking at the pictures made in the beginning of his career and later on, there is no change in that, proving that the autobiographical aspect and development are only a very thin layer of what the images convey. 

Woodman's work on the other hand, does show deeper layers of expressions, through body language, facial emotions, different use of space and material  and different narratives in her images. There is a clear development and change throughout her work, showing more of how she changed as an artist, but also as a person. Therefor I think Bright's analysis might have some truth in it, but it is very easy to find meaning in a narrative if you already know the end. I also find that Bright's statement is selling Woodman's creativity and ingenuity short. There is also a danger in explaining creativity and expressions in terms of mental stability. As if her art was a result of a mental illness and not of all the hours of hard work and dedication to art that she had since childhood. 

In any case, it's very interesting to think this concept and wonder about in what sense my own personality shines through what I do. Right now I feel I am mostly driven by work of other photographers and artists. When I see something that reminds me of a painting of photograph I have seen before, I try to copy it, or I will try to practice a technique or style that is being used. Even though I'm stealing of other people's ideas, I do think that my work at least shows who I am in what kind of art I like and discover. 

But maybe, if tragedy would strike, or if I became very depressed or mentally ill, it would change. I'm actually sure it would. 

List of References

Cooke, R. (2014) Searching for the real Francesca Woodman. Available at: (Accessed: 17 March 2016).

Jordana Lee (2015) The Woodmans [2010] Legendado PT-BR. Available at: (Accessed: 17 March 2016).

Steinhauer, J. (2012) Finding Francesca Woodman. Available at: (Accessed: 17 March 2016).