“From Angel series,” Rome, Italy, 1977.
Photograph by Francesca Woodman Courtesy George and Betty Woodman and Foam
If you don't know the work of Francesca Woodman, stop reading this now and just look. They’re exceptional pictures, taken between 1972 and 1981 by a young artist who was her own muse. But Woodman’s slow-burning self-portraits are the precise opposite of a glib selfie. Long exposures obscure her identity, which recedes as the figures migrate from body to blur. These pictures don’t give a damn about getting likes. With their eels, mildewed walls, and girded flesh, they’re happy to seduce by repelling. Woodman’s subject is less the known self than some shape-shifting remnant. That spectral aspect has its complications: Woodman jumped from a window to her death in New York City when she was twenty-two; her art and her life have become so enmeshed in the public eye that her pictures are often misread as premonitions. But to demote these strange, beautiful pictures to mere evidence of a desire to be not of this earth is to strip them of their power as works of art. Like all photographs made on film, they contain both shadow and light.
The selection here is from an exhibition, organized by the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, which travels on December 18th to the Foam Fotografiemuseum Amsterdam.