“It is difficult not to read Woodman’s many self-portraits – she produced over five hundred during her short lifetime – as alluding to a troubled state of mind. She committed suicide at the age of twenty-two.”

(Bright)

  • Look up the work of photographer Francesca Woodman online.
  • What evidence can you find for Bright’s analysis?

A beautiful conclusion by editor Julia Fiore of Artsy.net: Woodman upended the conventions of life, art, and death: In her photographs, she tried to both “erase” and define herself; in death, she crystallized and ensured her legacy. (Artsy Editorial and Wolkoff)

There is so much available online on Woodman that alone seems evidence on Bright’s analysis. Incredibly intense artistic work and a young, tragedic death are a proven recipe for ongoing discussion and analysis. Bright tries to connect Woodman’s work to her troubled state of mind, which not a few others tend to disagree. The ending of her life was, of course, the result of a troubled soul at that time, but was a troubled soul the cause of her work during her life?

Bright’s correlation between death and images remind me of Barthes’s idea of portraits being a rehearsal for death; a portrait is only what was (Barthes). But despite death enhances the external context of an image, more explicitly even, self-portraiture, it might not correlate in this clarity stated by Bright. Was a troubled mind the cause of her creativity, or was it the lack of recognition of her work and her self (in love and relation) that shortened her life?

Not in the sense that she plays with any imagery of death, but perhaps so in the fragility of her self-image, in the innocence that disguises the sexuality of her poses, in the way she pushes herself to the limit seemingly unaware of the dangers involved, like a moth flying ever closer to a candle flame. This is hindsight, though.(Riding, 2020)

Reading numerous articles and interviews, it was not undisputed that her troubled mind was always there; actually, it seemed absent during her work. Only the last period before her death things did not go her way. Rejected artistically and rejected in love. I can imagine, growing up in “art” with a constant pressure to achieve within her family, either as internal or external stimuli, recognition was relatively easy up to a point she became “adult”. Her exhibitionistic drive was perhaps an indication for a constant demand and search for confirmation of her being, the search for approval. Yes, the story becomes more dramatic with the death of an artist, but it does not prove her life was troubled and that troubledness initiated her fantastic creativity. The metaphor of the flying moth seems very appropriate. Her openness and uninhibitedness are not compatible with rejection and failure; I see a girl facing the world with an open mind and free spirit throughout her work only at the end could not cope with the reality of adulthood; failed in her eager quest for recognition and desperately needed appreciation, can one mention affection?

Exercise 1: Brotherus Research and Analysis

Reflect on the pieces of work discussed in this project in your learning log and do some further research of your own.

Here are a few questions you might ask yourself:

  • How do these images make you feel?
  • Do you think there’s an element of narcissism or self-indulgence in focusing on your own identity in this way?
  • What’s the significance of Brotherus’s nakedness?
  • Can such images ‘work’ for an outsider without accompanying text?
  • Do you think any of these artists are also addressing wider issues beyond the purely personal?

Laurie Atteras in a Frieze review, concludes accurately: What makes these photographs so poignant is the way, with their honest plainness, they suggest the mysterious vastness and complexity of today’s world(Frieze.com, 2020).
The work of Brotherus is confronting direct, but never she forces herself to the viewer, or is it the camera, is it herself? The images have some coldness, a true nakedness in the sense of unprotected but not specifically vulnerable. There is some discomfort for the viewer in all her images. The tendency to avoid facial expression, or at least fixed to neutral and therefore emotionless, or avoiding her face altogether.
The images in the series Annunciation specifically, indeed visualize the sad repetition of failed pregnancies in a very confronting way. The facial expressions, her posture and the chilled environment, enhance her desperate sadness. Few details indicate the story but perhaps not sufficiently explanatory on its own. The pregnancy tests, the blood in the toilet, the agenda pages all indications but a single word makes it all clear, no additional text is needed from that point on.
As a visual artist and therefor probably a visually orientated person, it seems the most logical way to communicate problems in life through images instead of writing or talking. Communication in images is just as narcissistic as sharing in words, the communication method does not change the intention or cause. Her motivation seems personal, though, and yes, she mentions the others who struggle with not getting pregnant, but it is thin. Besides being yet another example, I do not see much support in this series. One could argue such confronting and discomforting images would help to get the subject out of taboo, but even that is doubtful. The series feel very personal, openly, but personal, as a private burdon. Even though the images seem very daring it almost encloses the problem back into her personal loss and troubles, bringing it perhaps even further into the taboo, it is not a “sharing” series, it is actually very intimate. So yes, not being able to become pregnant is a broader issue but by showing very intimate, confronting, yet, personal images, might not be the most effective in supporting this issue. If one asks such questions or even suggests it, I instantly ask myself whats the effectiveness, as one should with marketing. Being an artist does not make you a good marketeer. If addressing a cause or the greater good is the intention, you might lose artistry, an effective combination seems rare. No, in this series, the question about effectiveness for a greater good seems slightly misplaced and does not add to the intimate impact of being personal and lonely. What bothers me over these images, is that in another series, 12 ANS APRÈS (1999 / 2011-2013) she seems to practice the depiction and perhaps acting of her emotions, images called: Exercice d’émotions.  This knowledge, apparently the images are a form of acting, somehow reduce the emotional impact, is the story real, are the motions sincere? 

 

Bibliography

Artnet.com. (2012). Francesca Woodman Biography – Francesca Woodman on artnet. [online] Available at: http://www.artnet.com/artists/francesca-woodman/biography [Accessed 19 Oct. 2020].

Artnet.com. (2016). Francesca Woodman. [online] Available at: http://www.artnet.com/artists/francesca-woodman/ [Accessed 31 Aug. 2020].

Artsy Editorial and Wolkoff, J. (2018). Reevaluating Francesca Woodman, Whose Early Death Haunts Her Groundbreaking Images. [online] Artsy. Available at: https://www.artsy.net/article/artsy-editorial-reevaluating-francesca-woodman-early-death-haunts-groundbreaking-images [Accessed 19 Oct. 2020].

Artsy.net. (2018). Francesca Woodman. [online] Available at: https://www.artsy.net/artist/francesca-woodman [Accessed 19 Oct. 2020].

Barthes, R. (2010). Camera lucida : reflections on photography. New York: Hill And Wang, A Division Of Farrar, Straus And Giroux.

Bright, S. (2010). Auto focus : the self-portrait in contemporary photography. New York (N.Y.): Monacelli Press, Cop.

Brotherus, E. (2013). Elina Brotherus. [online] Elina Brotherus. Available at: http://www.elinabrotherus.com/annonciation [Accessed 20 Oct. 2020].

Brotherus, E. (2014). Elina Brotherus. [online] Elina Brotherus. Available at: http://www.elinabrotherus.com/model-studies [Accessed 19 Oct. 2020].

DEATH IN THE PHOTOGRAPH (Published 1981). (1981). The New York Times. [online] 23 Aug. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/1981/08/23/books/death-in-the-photograph.html [Accessed 19 Oct. 2020].

Frieze.com. (2020). Elina Brotherus. [online] Available at: https://www.frieze.com/article/elina-brotherus [Accessed 19 Oct. 2020].

Oca-student.com. (2013). Photographers talking | OCA student. [online] Available at: https://www.oca-student.com/content/photographers-talking?page=1#comment-72335 [Accessed 19 Oct. 2020].

Phelan, P. (2002). Francesca Woodman’s Photography: Death and the Image One More Time. Signs, [online] 27(4), pp.979–1004. Available at: http://www.jstor.org.ucreative.idm.oclc.org/stable/10.1086/339640.

Riches, H. (2004). A Disappearing Act: Francesca Woodman’s “Portrait of a Reputation.” Oxford Art Journal, [online] 27(1), pp.97–113. Available at: http://www.jstor.org.ucreative.idm.oclc.org/stable/3600436 [Accessed 19 Oct. 2020].

Riding, A. (2020). Pictures, Perhaps, of Her Despair (Published 1998). The New York Times. [online] Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/1998/05/17/arts/pictures-perhaps-of-her-despair.html [Accessed 14 Nov. 2020].

‌Tate (2020). ‘Space2, Providence, Rhode Island’, Francesca Woodman, 1976 | Tate. [online] Tate. Available at: https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/woodman-space-providence-rhode-island-ar00350 [Accessed 31 Aug. 2020].

The Art Story. (2017a). Francesca Woodman Artworks & Famous Photography. [online] Available at: https://www.theartstory.org/artist/woodman-francesca/artworks/ [Accessed 18 Oct. 2020].

The Art Story. (2017b). Francesca Woodman Biography, Life & Quotes. [online] Available at: https://www.theartstory.org/artist/woodman-francesca/life-and-legacy/ [Accessed 18 Oct. 2020].

Wikipedia. (2018). Francesca Woodman. [online] Available at: https://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francesca_Woodman [Accessed 31 Aug. 2020].