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Book Review : Francesca Woodman


Book Review Francesca Woodman By Francesca Woodman Reviewed by Arista Slater-Sandoval The thorough book provides essays by art historian Chris Townsend, boasts over 250 plates (some work never before published), includes numerous documents and sketches from journals, and features a short response essay by George Woodman, Francesca’s father.
Francesca Woodman Photographs by Francesca Woodman. 
Text by Chris Townsend. Phaidon Press, 2016. 
 
Francesca Woodman
Reviewed by Arista Slater-Sandoval.

Francesca Woodman.
Photographs by Francesca Woodman. Text by Chris Townsend.
Phaidon Press, London, England, 2016. In English. 256 pp., 9¾x11½x1".  

Photographic surveys are often large tomes that sit on the coffee table, containing works such as the lighthouses of the New England coast, fifty years of National Geographic images, dogs diving into water after balls, etc. A brave few will peek into their generally oversized pages with full-bleed, vibrant color images to find a welcomed discovery of engaging work. Francesca Woodman, published by Phaidon, is such a book, presenting us with a sweeping overview of the young artist’s career. Woodman is a complex and dynamic example the uninhibited exploratory nature of the artist’s pursuit of discovery.

The thorough book provides essays by art historian Chris Townsend, boasts over 250 plates (some work never before published), includes numerous documents and sketches from journals, and features a short response essay by George Woodman, Francesca’s father. The book contains a wealth of academic writing and wonderful reproductions of Woodman’s work. It’s a fine addition to any photobook collection.

Francesca Woodman Photographs by Francesca Woodman. Text by Chris Townsend. Phaidon Press, 2016.

Townsend’s essays, which discuss Woodman in relation to American Gothic, Surrealism, feminism, post-minimalism, and the self-portrait, provide a versatile and deep analysis of Woodman and her work, securely fastening her place in the history of photography and her influence on contemporary photographers. Townsend demystifies the romantic notion that Woodman’s work is studied or alluring because of her suicide. Townsend argues that her imagery does not simply reflect a morose young woman searching for help and understanding in a tumultuous time, but instead depicts a young artist exploring her visual language, her femininity, and the photographic medium. He encourages the reader to not look at her work with grief surrounding a young death, but the loss of an experimental and daring female voice in photography’s history.

Francesca Woodman Photographs by Francesca Woodman. Text by Chris Townsend. Phaidon Press, 2016.

The work is organized into five different sections, allowing for a progression in Woodman’s visual and performative language within the frame. With the exception of the occasional male nude, Woodman’s body proliferates most of the compositions within varying manipulations, environments, and props. Objects carry great weight, both intimate and foreign in nature. The interaction of an object with, or on, the body in relation to the body’s position in the frame and surroundings helps to create the complex language that marks Woodman’s style. What she decides to hide behind, crawl around, hang from, or cover herself with, all vary drastically based on the environment she inhabits. The placement of the body within the frame is at times disjointed and elicits concern for the contortions Woodman imposes on herself. Woodman’s actions in front of the camera are disconcerting, revelatory, and embarrassing in their intimacy. However, that transformation imposed on the body through environment, prop or motion is the vocabulary that makes her imagery so compelling. The object, body, and space in tandem create the cryptic images that viewers are still enthralled with today.

Francesca Woodman Photographs by Francesca Woodman. Text by Chris Townsend. Phaidon Press, 2016.

An equally important aspect of Woodman’s work is how she uses photography to document her performances. Photography has a rich history of recording body-centric performance art, which was popular in the 1970s when Woodman made her work. The book’s layout emphasizes this as it presents a sequence of two to as many as five images from what appears to be the same photoshoot. If we think about the time between exposures and how Woodman is continually in motion, then the image becomes a document of the performance. Woodman moves around in the frame from exposure to exposure, thus tracking her contorted actions like a dance. Woodman’s work brings the viewer into the studio as if to witness a performance that explores female identity, but also pushes the boundaries of the medium itself. Using long exposures to track motion and distort her body, she challenges the expectations of still photography.

Francesca Woodman Photographs by Francesca Woodman. Text by Chris Townsend. Phaidon Press, 2016.
Rich with Woodman’s incomparable images and informative essays, this book provides an accessible, but fresh examination of her too-brief career. — Arista Slater-Sandoval

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ARISTA SLATER-SANDOVAL  was born and raised in Grand Rapids Michigan. She moved in 2007 to washington D.C. to pursue a BFA in photography at the Corcoran College of Art and Design. After completing her BFA, Arista moved to Cambridge MA, and attended the College of Art and Design at Lesley University where she completed her MFA in Fine Art Photography in 2013. While in grad school she focused in gum bichromate, and large scale image transfers. Currently Arista lives and works in New Mexico with her husband while traveling and working on her various mediums of choice.

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