Woodman, c. 1977. Self portrait
Francesca Woodman’s images ooze pathos.
To me, her images speak of desperation, of an uncertain mind trying to deal with complex issues and the opposing thoughts that ensue – should they be suppressed, or brought out into the open and tackled head on?
Largely unrecognised in her short lifetime, Francesca committed suicide just after she was first published, she is now regarded as an icon of photography.
Woodman is quite often the subject in her images. Rarely is she fully in the image. But the viewer is forced to ask questions as to why this might be the case. Is she escaping out of the situation, and therefore the image, or into the image from another situation? Her frequent nudity shows vulnerability, and consequently part of her nudity is hidden. But from what is she hiding?
In order to inform, to extend knowledge, something has to be laid bare. Something has to be taken from a place of safety. There has to be a sense of jeopardy.
My first impression of Woodman’s work was one of disarray. This remains the case. Interviewed since her death, Francesca’s father speaks of no one being aware of the developing mental crisis which would claim his daughter’s life.
Jo-Ana is a story of recovery. It is the diaries of an anorexic described in photographs. In reality, the diarist would experience a stomach-churning journey – plummeting to the depths of despair from where could be seen only occasional glimmers of sky-soaring hope.
The purpose of Jo-Ana is to raise awareness by inviting the viewer to ask questions about the subject’s situation.
Some of these questions are quite obvious, for example, the viewer might ask what is happening in the subject’s life to cause the illness?
But we could be much more soul-searching, and ask ourselves, as a society, what is happening in our own lives which means that we so often miss, or disregard, the plight of others? Is it that we don’t see? Or is it that we don’t want to see?
This is an area for further investigation in relation to future projects.