The first time I saw Francesca Woodman’s work was at an exhibition in London during my studies at St Martins. Her eloquent, historically referential work has since remained ingrained in my mind. Last month, at FOAM in Amsterdam, I saw a similar retrospective and those images jumped straight to the forefront again.
However, as with so many others, I have begun to wonder if my original draw into her world was due largely to the tragedy of her personal story. Woodman took her own life at the age of 22. Prior to her suicide, she created a vast archive that hints at ‘what could have been’. As with Kurt Cobain, Fassbinder or countless other musicians, artists and film makers whose lives have been lost too soon, we pine for the unmade works of future years, with no knowledge as to whether there would have been a continuation if they had indeed lived.
Perhaps those ten years of creativity (the first image on show at FOAM was taken when Woodman was 12 years old) were in fact the peak of her talents? Perhaps the responsibilities of adult life would have grasped her and drained her creative urges? We are naive if we believe creativity to be a life long gift. It is dependent on surroundings, and would the artist behind such fragile intimacy at such a young age have had the conviction and resilience to protect herself from life’s viciousness?
Had she yet known heartbreak? Had she fought to eat or pay rent? Her family background of financial stability obviously afforded her the time and equipment to create at such a young age. As did the education that this brought. Her years in Florence are evident in the classical construction of her work. The influences of the cities art history is certainly is certainly not lost on her, as is the influence of American teen culture of the 1970’s.
The mind of a teenager absorbs like a sponge, and there is an undoubtable talent in restructuring this into such beautiful imagery. However, as adults, we all wish to once again be a sponge without the idiosyncrasies life has driven into us.
I’m do not in anyway doubt my love of Woodman’s photography. It’s youthful abundance and adolescent melancholy, fill me with nostalgia and hope at the same time. I am however intrigued by the questions of my own allegiances that her life story raises.