To gaze upon Francesca Woodman’s photographs is to absorb the pain, beauty, isolation, and the desire to be desired, that women often fall victim to as they move from girlhood, to sexuality, and their rise up the totem toward becoming – Object. As we view these images, we are made to witness the wasteland of this devastation, of innocence locked away and scorned, of the machinations that women/girls mutilate themselves with in the name of Beauty, and Desire, and the too often sadistic ritual of Adoration. Woodman’s photographs whisper of rich, delicate, haunting beauty – of girls and young women functioning, culturally, as our sacrificial lambs. The photographs are achingly tragic…so seductively rich in their horror that they must certainly make ALL women stop, pause, catch their breath – as they immediately think of and remember, all the girls and women they have known in their life time that have stumbled through, and been obliterated by, this arid wasteland depicted in her black and white images.
In the world of Art, women/adolescent girls are most often depicted as the one being Observed. And so very often, they are also depicted as having knowledge of this fact…that they are being viewed, and that they are desired by their viewer…as though there is no higher honor, or status, than to be observed from this state of desire. And it is the attainment of this status, that makes them Significant, Important, Powerful. “I am a desirable object” they scream – and in order to maintain this position, the woman or girl will often do whatever it takes to maintain this power: starve herself, hang herself, objectify herself, sell herself, make herself mute, all but invisible, weak, easy…all in the name of satisfying what others, or what they think others, desire them to be. Art may no longer push this objectification status as it once did, but it doesn’t need to – Advertisement and popular culture has taken over and the objectification of the female seems stronger and more destructive than ever.
I have watched women very close and dear to me cross this threshold – some have been able to come back and function as strong, dynamic, well adjusted women…and others – well, let’s just say they have not fared as well. It is tragic to watch the slow evacuation of someone you love, and sadly, this happens far too often in the world of woman. Woodman’s photographs display this tragedy (as old as Ophelia herself…rather, most certainly older) as though with blunt knives – soft, beautiful, almost tender. But this only heightens the betrayal of the narrative that her photographs present…the gradual erosion of self in order to fulfill someone else’s foundation of desire.
How often we women make ourselves disappear. As though fulfilling some unspoken contract, in a world that continues, by and large, to be run, determined, built, envisioned, and slaughtered, by men. I say this not to put men down – every man that I know, that is in my life, is loving, decent, and good, right down to the core. But suffice to say, the observed is rarely a position that is placed on the shoulders of man – it is a position of inferiority, lacking in power, and lacking in determination. No – that is sadly, still all too often, our role. As Women. Woodman’s photographs reveal all of this, and more – and she hurls this at us as a whisper… a whisper hiding in a windstorm that wails through the trees.
*Please do share these photographs with everyone you know. I am passionately mad about photography, and Women :), and I have never in my life, come across images as Powerful, and moving, as these. They need to be seen, they need to awaken and stir, and give voice to all the silent voices out there. Please please visit her photographs on provided link, and pass it on. FrancescaWoodman
*****…Oh no! I am crushed! I thought Woodman was a contemporary artist, alive and strong, but alas, that is sadly not the case. She committed suicide at the young young age of 22, back in the ’80’s. Devastating, that we lost the likes of her in this sweet, sad, world of ours. FrancescaWoodmanbio
How I hope you are flying light and sweet and tender and loved.