Monday, December 12, 2011

Francesca Woodman

At Selavy's suggestion we went to the SF MOMA yesterday to see this exhibit, Francesca Woodman.  

I apologize about the poor pictures here, which have far too much reflection in them.  All of the prints were protected by very reflective glass.  I hadn't brought my polarizing filter and they were taken very quickly after realizing that these pictures were not included in the retrospective book that I had just purchased and was flipping through afterwards.

Upon more careful inspection I found there were many prints that were not included in the book though I am still very happy with it. There is also a Phaidon collection that also looked very good, possibly even better, more inclusive.

I don't have a lot of luck with photography exhibits, usually.  Often I'll find that I like less than half of the images on display, or sometimes even much less than that.  Not so this time.  I was hard pressed to find even a single image that I didn't find interesting.  Most of the images could be looked at more than once, which is also unlike many photography exhibits I've attended, needing only a glance to gather what there is to gather concerning the image.  I found myself circling each room twice this time, amazed.

It becomes difficult to separate the story of the young woman's life from the art that she made.  A very talented woman who took her own life at the age of 22 by jumping from a loft window in NYC.  The images she made between 1975 and 1981, from the age of 16-22, were astonishing.  They showed an intense willingness to experiment and a unique and provocative power to suggest.  Though, as I mentioned, it is difficult not to see much darkness and desperation in many of her images, no matter how wonderful they are, knowing what we now know about her.  The life becomes almost inseparable from the death and the life of the artist in this way.

We walked from room to room marveling at the body of her work.  There were many self-portraits. So many that it was almost a shock when another person would appear alongside her in one of the images.  Or, when several did.  Here is an image search that might be worth looking at.

I won't pretend to explain or critique her work. I am still working my way through my feelings about it, trying to separate the elements that my mind and eyes don't wish to. 

The Encyclopedia Britannica once stated that, "Photography can not record abstract ideas."  Never has this been less true than with her work.  Her work seems to float between fantasy and fact, haze and focus, stillness and motion, abstraction and assertion, life and death, past and present, venue and vision.  It captures the very moments as venue becomes vision.