New Nude Attitude: Francesca Woodman

A little back story.

While in high school, I took a couple college classes (for whatever reason) and learned about Francesca Woodman through my Drama & Theatre professor. I remember the first day, my professor pulled me aside and told me that I looked like I was far away. That my eyes were focused, but my mind seemed to be somewhere else. I think she was referring to my mediocre performance, but either way what she said stayed with me.

A few weeks before the very last class, she gave me a black and white photograph of a girl with undone hair, a discheveled sort of look. Standing topless, with a sort of brave vulnerability and a deeply focused gaze into the camera. “People don’t have to be nude to feel nude. Nudity is freedom, nudity is raw. When you are present, when your mind relaxes and trusts you, that’s when you feel the most natural.”

She told me to look at this picture.

Francesca Woodman SELF PORTRAIT
Angel Series, Italy. 1977-1978

“The girl is naked, but her eyes–her eyes are so powerful that you almost forget that she’s standing there topless, breasts exposed.” My professor goes on to tell me: “Any doubts and insecurities you have that’s holding you back from expressing yourself or causing your present presence to be fogged, EXPOSE them. The worst thing is to be far away from what’s happening.” I was 17 then, and it took a couple years later for me to realize the poignancy of her message.

Ever since then, I’ve had a weird fascination and admiration for Francesca Woodman. This incredibly revealing photographer, who’s able to create a bond between observer and photograph. Woodman often photographs female subjects–herself included, often nude, blurred, and distorted. Even dubbed “the blurred genius,” she seemingly showcases the female body as a multitude of personalities: gentle, fragile, spontaneous, playful, scared, depressed.

Her photographs make me feel proud. Proud of the female body. Proud of what our bodies represent. Proud of what our bodies can express.

Three Kinds of Melon, In Four Kinds of Light Series
Looking through her photo series and collection of work, it’s hard to imagine she produced most of these photographs in her late teen’s and early twenties. Unfortunately, Woodman only lived until the tender age of 22, when she ended her life by jumping off a building in New York after suffering bouts of depression.
The idea of being an artist is strange and wonderful thing. Even though the artist might be far away now, their work will always stay with you. And that is a powerful gift.
Francesca Woodman’s simple black and white self portraiture was able to influence the way I viewed life. When you reveal yourself to others, whether physically, mentally, or emotionally; it can be the biggest gift to yourself. Yes, it’ll be the most naked you’ll ever feel, but also the most natural, the most present.

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