Dec/Jan 2012

Francesca Woodman's Notebook

Julia Bryan-Wilson


Click to enlarge

Courtesy George and Betty Woodman.

IN THE THIRTY YEARS since artist Francesca Woodman committed suicide, her reputation as a photographer has steadily grown alongside her mythic status as a kind of tragic heroine. Her self-portraits are widely imitated by young female art students eager to insert their own bodies into elusive narratives. The somewhat extravagant publication of Francesca Woodman’s Notebook is sure to fan the flames of Woodmania even further. A slender volume packaged in a precious, powder-blue cardboard box, it is a finely produced reprint of a turn-of-the-century composition book that the artist found in Rome and embellished, placing her own photographs and text inside its yellowed pages. When she acquired the quaderno—one of five that Woodman treated in this way—it was filled with a tight Italian script about a variety of subjects, including notes about poetry and measurements of buildings. Woodman then printed her photographs on transparent film to let the academic jottings remain legible underneath. A connoisseur of the old-fashioned and the decrepit, Woodman deploys some of her recognizable motifs regarding the gendered body and architectural space: In this image (above), a female figure perches in a chair, her head cut off, a smudgy shadow behind her. A white ball is in the foreground, suggesting a game between the woman on the chair and the viewer. A shaky phrase, “i’m hoping,” is written underneath the photo. The previous page entreats us to “call collect” a phone number with a Providence, Rhode Island, area code—I tried, but it is out of service.

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