The Fallen Angel, The Art of Francesca Woodman at Guggenheim, NY

Francesca Woodman was an American photographer who investigated female subjectivity, identity and performance using blurred, half hidden self-portraiture. With herself often the subject, her ghostly and narrative black and white photographs offer an insight into her unconscious and performative self. Woodman played with a camera’s exposure time and incorporated decrepit locations, using antique props such as mirrors, couches, and wallpaper as her backdrop, thus lending the human form evanescence by presenting mysterious old-fashioned photographic stories.

Born into a family of artists in 1958, she began producing self- portraits by the time she was thirteen years old. She studied both abroad in Rome and at RISD before moving to New York where she continued her experimentation with photography, drawing from Surrealist motifs and gothic fiction. In 1981, when only twenty-two, she committed suicide after a long struggle with depression. Woodman is considered one of the most gifted and elusive young artists of our time.

These selection of Francesca Woodman works displayed at the Guggenheim were originally printed on VAGA’s 3rd issue. In collaboration with the Guggenheim Museum NY

-text by Walker Brockington

Francesca Woodman Artists Photography Books and 2024 Art Shows
Francesca Woodman Art, 1976 Providence, Rhode Island Gelatin silver print, 13.3 x 13.3 cm
Courtesy George and Betty Woodman

Francesca Woodman: A Timeless Influence in Photography

Francesca Woodman, born in 1958 and passing tragically at the age of 22 in 1981, left behind a profound legacy in the world of photography. Despite her brief career, Woodman created over 800 photographs, characterized by their haunting beauty and complex exploration of the female form and identity. Her work continues to resonate, influencing contemporary art and photography and captivating audiences in retrospective exhibitions, such as the significant one held at the Guggenheim Museum.

Francesca Woodman Guggenheim New York — Self-portrait talking to Vince, Francesca Woodman, 1975—78 Providence, Rhode Island Gelatin silver print, 13 x 12.9 cm – Courtesy George and Betty Woodman

Early Life and Artistic Beginnings

Francesca Woodman grew up in a family of artists, which profoundly influenced her development and passion for art. She began photographing at the tender age of thirteen, quickly developing a style that was both introspective and expressive. Her work often featured herself and other female models, frequently blurred or partly hidden, in dilapidated or empty spaces. These settings contributed to the ethereal and sometimes eerie quality of her images, exploring themes of presence and absence, visibility and invisibility.

Artistic Style and Themes

Woodman’s photography is notable for its use of long exposure times and natural light, which give her images a soft, otherworldly quality. Her compositions frequently explore the relationship between the human body and its surroundings, often playing with the idea of the body as both a subject and an object. This duality probes deep philosophical questions about the nature of the self and the ephemeral quality of human existence.

Her work also delves into issues of gender and self-perception, a pioneering approach at the time that predated much of the feminist art movement’s focus on these themes. Woodman’s photographs can be seen as a form of visual poetry, where each image is a stanza full of symbolic language meant to be both personal and universal.

Legacy and Influence

Francesca Woodman Guggenheim New York – House #4
Francesca Woodman, 1976 Providence, Rhode Island, Gelatin silver print, 14.6 x 14.6 cm
Courtesy George and Betty Woodman

Francesca Woodman’s impact on the field of photography and beyond is outsized compared to her brief career. Her ability to convey deep emotion and complex themes through her photography has made her work a subject of enduring study and appreciation. The Guggenheim’s retrospective, for example, showcased her vast body of work and highlighted her unique artistic voice, bringing renewed attention to her influence in contemporary art circles.

This exhibition, along with others, has helped cement Woodman’s status as a critical figure in modern photography. Her exploration of self-identity, the body, and the metaphysical through photography remains relevant to contemporary discussions within the art world. Her influence can be seen in the works of countless photographers and artists today who cite her as a key inspiration in their exploration of similar themes.

Continued Relevance

Francesca Woodman Art Show - Photography

Today, Francesca Woodman’s work continues to be relevant, resonating with new generations of artists and photographers. Her exploration of personal and universal themes, combined with her innovative techniques and unique artistic vision, ensures her place in the canon of modern art. As discussions around body positivity and gender identity have become more mainstream, Woodman’s work engages these topics in ways that were ahead of her time, making her photographs incredibly pertinent today.

Her images also contribute to ongoing discussions about mental health, particularly regarding the pressures faced by creative individuals. The introspective and often melancholic tone of her work opens up space for conversations about the psychological demands of artistic expression.

Francesca Woodman Photographer

Francesca Woodman’s art transcends the traditional boundaries of photography to explore deeply personal and profound themes. Her work, characterized by an ethereal quality and a deep sensitivity to form and texture, continues to inspire and provoke. Exhibitions like the Guggenheim retrospective not only celebrate her artistic achievements but also ensure that her creative vision continues to influence and engage audiences and artists alike. In an era where the boundaries of self and the exploration of identity are ever-evolving, Woodman’s contributions remain not only relevant but revolutionary.

Best Francesca Woodman’s Photography Art Books

Francesca Woodman’s hauntingly beautiful photography has been the subject of numerous books that explore her life, work, and the profound impact she had on the art world.

  1. “Francesca Woodman: On Being an Angel” by Anna Tellgren
    This book accompanies the exhibition of the same name and features over 100 of Woodman’s photographs, providing insight into her creative process and the ethereal quality of her work.
  2. “Francesca Woodman’s Notebook”
    This unique publication reproduces pages from Woodman’s own notebooks, offering readers a glimpse into her thoughts, sketches, and artistic developments.
  3. “Francesca Woodman: The Roman Years; Between Skin and Film” by Isabella Pedicini
    Focusing on the time Woodman spent in Rome, this book explores how the city and its classical art influenced her photographic style and subjects.
  4. “Francesca Woodman: Works from the Sammlung Verbund”
    This book is published in conjunction with an exhibition showcasing works from the Verbund Collection and delves deep into thematic series created by Woodman during her short but prolific career.
  5. “Francesca Woodman: House of the White Butterfly”
    Featuring a series of her works alongside critical essays, this book explores themes of identity and metamorphosis in Woodman’s photography.
  6. “Francesca Woodman: Portrait of a Reputation” by Kate Ware
    This book presents an early body of work that showcases Woodman’s emerging voice as a photographer, featuring more than 40 of the artist’s captivating and rarely seen works.
  7. “Francesca Woodman: Photographs 1977–1981”
    This comprehensive collection offers an extensive look at Woodman’s career, from her student days to her later works in New York City, complemented by scholarly essays examining her techniques and themes.
  8. “Francesca Woodman: Dark Gaze” by Claire Raymond
    Offering a critical analysis of Woodman’s work, this book discusses how her photography intersects with issues of gender, death, and the body.
  9. “Francesca Woodman: Shadow’s Door”
    This book focuses on the motif of the door in Woodman’s work, exploring how this element works symbolically to discuss themes of transition and the boundary between the internal self and the external world.
  10. “Francesca Woodman: Zigzag”
    Named after one of her exhibitions, “Zigzag” offers a collection of essays and illustrations that explore the depth and complexity of Woodman’s photographic art.

Each of these books provides a different perspective on Francesca Woodman’s work, from comprehensive retrospectives to focused studies of specific periods or themes, making them invaluable resources for anyone interested in her artistic legacy.

Francesca Woodman’s Upcoming Shows in 2024

The Gagosian gallery will showcase 60 images from the Woodman Family Foundation, some never before seen, from March 13 to April 27. This exhibition marks a new collaboration between the gallery and the foundation, introducing Woodman’s vintage prints, many of which her parents had kept private.

Simultaneously, the National Portrait Gallery in London will feature Woodman’s work alongside Victorian photographer Julia Margaret Cameron in the show “Francesca Woodman and Julia Margaret Cameron: Portraits to Dream In,” running from March 21 to June 16. This exhibition will explore the resonances between the two artists, both of whom used staging and theatrical elements to deepen the narrative and allegorical potential of their photographs.

For more information about upcoming shows and releases please visit the Woodman Family Foundation at