Although she was born in America, the artist’s time spent in Italy in the years leading up to her untimely death produced some of her most known works. By Phoebe Gardner
On a hot, sunny day in 1978, a 19-year-old Francesca Woodman carried bags of live eels through the streets of Rome with her close friend, artist Sloan Rankin. The creatures were set to be used to create one of her most notable series, Eel Series (1977-78). In one of the images, Woodman’s body is contorted on the floor, turned away from the viewer but towards a bowl of eels. The figure is out of focus and softly blurred – a trademark of her work.
A pioneering photographer, Woodman reclaimed the female gaze by often posing nude in her images, with mirrors and other bits of furniture obscuring parts of herself. She was drawn to experimental methods – like that of Eel Series (1977-78) – to create some of the most thought-provoking and progressive photographs of the 20th century. Working only with black and white photography no bigger than 20 x 25cm, she explored themes of gender and sexuality, with many of her photos utilising movement and long exposure to create a blurred effect.
In her short lifetime, Woodman produced over 800 hundred images, before her tragic suicide at the tender age of 22. It seemed that the world was not ready for Woodman nor was she for it. Across her lifetime, the artist also held an extraordinary relationship with Italian art and culture, now the subject of a new show at Venice’s Victoria Miro gallery. Francesca Woodman (1958 – 1981): Italian Works, running from September 15 till December 15 2018, will host the artworks created during her time studying abroad in Rome.
As the show launches, we explore the immense impact of Italy on the American photographer’s pioneering work.
Francesca Woodman, Self-portrait, Easter, Rome, 1978
Gelatin silver estate print, 27.9 x 35.6 cm, 11 x 14 in
© Charles Woodman
Courtesy Charles Woodman, and Victoria Miro, London/Venice