Magazine article Artforum International

Francesca Woodman: Marian Goodman Gallery

Magazine article Artforum International

Francesca Woodman: Marian Goodman Gallery

Article excerpt

Francesca Woodman


Among the reasons the photographs of Francesca Woodman entrance me is the insouciant grace with which she and her collaborators occupy their frames. Wearing a long dress, striped stockings, or nothing at all, hair in a sloppy bun or set loose, Woodman presented a distinct style, evident even in her earliest self-portraits as a teenager. Her presentation's declarative (often humorously hedged) ambition at times became a literal aspect of the work, as in a handwritten note in red pen on a photograph she sent to her parents in 1977: I'M TRYING MY HAND AT FASHION PHOTOGRAPHY. In the black-and white image, whose inscription gave this stellar show its title and its tilt. Woodman hands covering her face, in a heavy dress in front of a similarly textured blanket that has been pinned against the wall behind her like a curtain, introducing at once the theatrical staging of her approach to "fashion" photography, and its textured exercises.


These images fit easily within Woodman's overall aesthetic. (The irony here is there her style has been copied by countless magazine and catalogue spreads since.) Yet something specific was at work in this grouping of twenty-nine photographs, all but four in black-and-white, taken between 1975 and 1980 in Providence (where Woodman graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design in 1978), New York, and Italy.

One of the most influential photographers straddling both the fine-art and fashion worlds at this moment was Deborah Turbeville, and Woodman tried to get a job as her assistant (Turbeville never replied to Woodman's overtures to meet). In a catalogue essay that matches the exhibition's moving concision, Alison M. Gingeras describes the extraordinary artist's book (not in the show) that Woodman assembled to woo the veteran photographer. Woodman certainly took up Turbeville's dramatic direction, but she brought it elsewhere. She mixed the fantasy of fashion (beautiful girls playing dress-up in furs and pearls) with some of its more mature abjections (the body unable to escape fetishized display). Space is confined, cornered, and cropped. …

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