Francesca Woodman: The eerie images of a teenage genius

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Her late images, taken between 1979 and 1980, show her moving in new directions, trying out colour film and creating a massive semi-abstract tableau, Blueprint for a Temple, in which she posed friends as architectural caryatids (column-like female forms), supporting a building she created from stitched-together images of a New York apartment.

It’s tempting to think about which other kinds of image-making she would have become absorbed by; in which new directions she might have gone. But then, in a life lived at frantic high speed, perhaps Woodman had already achieved what she wanted to achieve. In the final journal entry written before her death, she refers to herself and her work in the past tense: “I was inventing a language for people to see the everyday things that I also see,” she writes, “and show them something different.”

For all the riddles and fugitive qualities of her work, she surely did that. Even if she were with us today, we would still be looking at and puzzling over these pictures. One of Francesca Woodman’s greatest gifts is that she sensed the ultimate fact about photography: much as we may wish it to show reality, telling us things straight, of course it doesn’t. As Woodman knew better than almost any artist, photography is a medium of shadow as well as light, of delusion and illusion and disappearance. We cannot know what sits outside the frame any more than we can know what happens before or after the shutter snaps open then shut.

“Photography supposedly captures the truth, and we all know that that’s not possible,” McClure says. “It only fixes a moment.”

All images by Francesca Woodman

Courtesy of Woodman Family Foundation and Marian Goodman Gallery

© Woodman Family Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, 2021.

Francesca Woodman: Alternate Stories is at Marian Goodman gallery in New York until 23 December.

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