Francesca Woodman

In researching for EYV Exercise 3.2: A Durational Space, I was interested in both the life and the work of Francesca Woodman.

Francesca Woodman was born in 1958 and began taking photographs as a young girl. Her images are mostly of female nudes, and her subject is frequently herself. She frequently used a slow shutter to capture movement and her images often show her face and body blurred and undefined. Whether this is a deliberate reflection of her state of mind or a feminist statement is the subject of debate.

Woodman committed suicide in 1981, at the age of 22, after struggling with depression and mental ill health.  Gerry Badger (course notes p66) feels that her ’emotional state is expressed visually through both time and space in her photography’. (Course notes p66)

This image immediately put me in mind of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper. This short story, published in 1892, is an important feminist polemic drawing attention to the misdiagnosis and medicalisation of women, and the control of women’s health by men.

woodman

Image 1

Gilman’s protagonist (un-named) is a woman suffering depression after the birth of her child.  Her ‘cure’ is controlled by her doctor husband who confines her to her bed, forcing her to rest and forbidding her to write.  Under stimulated and frustrated, she becomes fixated on the walls and imagines there are women trapped behind the patterns in the wallpaper. Her rest cure eventually causes her to lapse into insanity. Much of Gilman’s story is autobiographical, written after years of depression, as a message to her doctor.

I feel that Woodman must have been influenced by Gilman. This image suggests to me that the photographer was aware of this story and its message and that she has created an image endorsing The Yellow Wallpaper as well as reflecting her own experiences and state of  mind. I see this photograph as a statement about women’s position in a patriarchal society and an expression of Woodman’s frustration that ‘society’s cards are irrevocably stacked against her sex.’ (Badger 2016)

This image, as with many of Woodman’s photographs is located in an old building in a state of disrepair. This emphasises the feeling of disconnection from society. The subject’s face and most of her body is hidden by the wallpaper and consequently she seems to disappear, absorbed into the building as if she didn’t exist as a separate entity. She is covering herself as if ashamed, or as if she wants to merge with her surroundings. This reminds me of how ghosts are said to walk through walls, presenting the subject as ghostly, even dead. I think this is a powerful image highlighting the experiences of women in general, of women with mental ill-health in particular, and the specific experience of the artist.

Please see the full text of The Yellow Wallpaper at: http://womenshistory.about.com/od/gilmancharlotte/fl/The-Yellow-Wallpaper.htm

Illustrations:

Image 1

Francesca Wodman (1976) Space2. Photograph. At https://www.bing.com/images/search?q=francesca+woodman&view=detailv2&qpvt=francesca+woodman&id=DED2CE4C39F5058267F788054CB5B2F2D4B87251&selectedIndex=8&ccid=MojJmlpq&simid=607992105548122214&thid=OIP.M3288c99a5a6a383344558bbd09071f35o0&ajaxhist=0. Accessed 18 September 2016

References

Badger G (2016) Francesca Woodman. At: http://www.gerrybadger.com/francesca-woodman/ Accessed 18 September 2016

 

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