Francesca Woodman


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.

On Reflection: Weeks 21 to 25, FMP

It was interesting to see the different reactions to Jo-Ana across the three social media Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

I expected a certain anti-climax after the exhibition launch, an amount of feeling maudlin post launch as something that had been anticipated for some time had been and gone. However, a high degree of positivity remained, together with an enormous sense of satisfaction.

There has been significant interest in Jo-Ana, not just for the exhibition as it stands, but in terms of where else it might be seen.

At the time of writing, the following have been confirmed.

Jo-Ana will exhibit as part of Landings 2018 – an annual collaborative exhibition staged by Falmouth University students.

The Association of Photographer’s will feature the project on their social media channels.

The photography journal Source annually showcases the work of BA and MA photography graduates, Jo-Ana will be hosted on the Source Graduate website alongside the work of my Falmouth MA peers.

Contemporary Photography, the journal of The Royal Photographic Society’s special interest group of the same name, will carry an article highlighting Jo-Ana and its aims.

This is an enormous amount of exposure. I feel very positive about where this might potentially lead, the opportunities which this level and kind of exposure could create.

And so, we move from exhibition phase, to post-exhibition analysis.

In real terms, this means a 3,000 word critical review of practice. This really isn’t my strong point – give it five minutes and examining cracks on the ceiling becomes much, much more interesting. I struggle with the attention span needed to write paragraph after paragraph. This is an area I must work on.

Moving on from Jo-Ana, I am beginning to question how far I want to push this subject in terms of introducing creativity or experimentation to the photography.

For example, how could the project develop if the subject were to take control of the camera?

This is an area I want to explore much further, having relevance for a proposed future project investigating alcoholism. Notably, Paul Keast, a recovering alcoholic, was encouraged to take up photography as part of his rehabilitation. The journeys he photographed to and from his treatment sessions exhibited in 2016.