This network of times which approached one another, forked, broke off, or were unaware of one another for centuries, embraces all possibilities of time. We do not exist in the majority of these times; in some you exist, and not I; in others I, and not you; in others, both of us. In the present one, which a favorable fate has granted me, you have arrived at my house; in another, while crossing the garden, you found me dead; in still another, I utter these same words, but I am a mistake, a ghost.
Francesca Woodman’s body of work is not very extensive, however it is notable for her problematic character. Her photographic series question not only the very fundamental elements, such as space and time, that photography is made of, but also its inference as a medium of representation. She uses, mostly, black and white film, long exposures and back lighting. In her images, there’s usually the depiction of a body — her own — in relation with the surrounding space and still objects. These spaces are ruins, derelict buildings, where blurred bodies in motion seek to disappear, fragment, camouflage, almost as a way of escaping their own figure.
We can see bodies moving in space, as seeking to produce rotations, displacements and resizing of objects, as an act of merging and, at the same time, fading away. Naked bodies striving against raw space, creating a dichotomy between the organic and the inorganic, a trace of presence and absence as a phantasmatic and surreal scenery. There are also compositions, where the bodies are partially dressed in patterned fabrics ou covered with fragments around, half revealing themselves, half hiding.
Imprinting the body in the photographic space in a series brings about the notion of time too. Making thematic series — about spaces — goes hand in hand with the conditions Woodman creates her images in. This process evokes how representation lives in the cinema, where there’s a temporal continuum, a duration, which opposed itself to the abrupt instantaneity. Capturing these bodies in motion take time , the time of their living; while framing is the very gesture of establishing the time-space limits of a photographic image and, at the same time, of incarcerating our object of attention within a photographic instant. Here, we find the unfolding of a certain way of approaching time in photography by showing the struggle of a body inside a spatial frame: by including objects whose context is not that one, the artist produces a kind of artificiality, an enigma and a certain fiction that question the notion of representation in photography. Not a reproduction of the real, but the formation of an other real.
The constant self-(re)presentation joins this questioning of the medium as a post-minimalistic and experimental attitude of excess and anti-form. There seems to be an obscure conversation about identity and negativity, a refusal to remain, or even a dispute, between the fractured object, the architecture of space and the shattered, the disoriented, the delirious body. Nevertheless, the use of series and also text on the images conceal a conceptual approach and intensify the plastic but also discursive materiality of the off bodies, inscribing themselves by light and in time ( On Being An Angel , Providence, Rhode Island, 1977).
In a movement of dissidence from the European and the American tradition in photography, Woodman seeks to escape a phenomenological reductionism similar to Walter Benjamin’s analysis of Atget’s work:
He was the first to disinfect the stuffy atmosphere spread by the conventional portrait photography of the period of decline. He cleansed this atmosphere, indeed cleared it altogether. He initiated the liberation of the object from the aura, which is the most incontestable achievement of the recent school of photography (...) He seeks the forgotten and the forsaken, and hence such pictures are directed against the exotic, ostentatious, romantic sound of city names; they suck the aura out of reality like water from a sinking ship. What is aura? A peculiar web of space and time: the unique manifestation of a distance, however near it may be.
The photographer responds to this notion of aura fabricating a place of non-identity: in each series, for each theme (even if an untitled one), she attempts to catch a body within this time and space, challenging the systematization of these constitutive elements of photography and, by leaving the traces of the movement of her own body, she goes as far as the empty place, that place in-between past and future, right by the limits of each image. Also, posing in bleak and desolate places with back lighting, which amplifies the halo and, hence, the phantasmagoric aspect of it all, introduces a temporality and its depth as if we could sense or touch its trace, its haze (Untitled, Providence, Rhode Island, 1975-1976).
Woodman materializes these critical discourses through a formal composition, in which bodies struggle within a duration, resisting death and the incarceration. Still, this movement shows their dissolution, but gathers its traces. The critique of the photographic medium is the analysis of the relation between material and process, subject and object, perception and affection (House Series , Providence, Rhode Island, 1976).