Photographic Hauntings: The poetic images of Francesca Woodman

Posted by Aspasia Stephanou on January 31, 2009 in Blog tagged with


Photographic Hauntings: The poetic images of Francesca Woodman


Stasis in darkness…




…Black sweet blood mouthfuls,


Something else


Hauls me through air –

Thighs, hair;

Flakes from my heels.



Godiva, I unpeel –

Dead hands, dead stringencies.


And now I

Foam to wheat, a glitter of seas.

The child’s cry


Melts in the wall.

And I

Am the arrow,


The dew that flies

Suicidal, at one with the drive

Into the red… (Sylvia Plath, From Ariel)


From Angel Series, Rome, 1977-1978


She was a woman and photographer. A Victorian heroine trapped in black and white spaces. The black and white, bleak, spaces of isolation and loss, desire and death. She dreamed of angels when her body was screaming in deserted, dilapidated, forgotten rooms. Francesca Woodman was the subject of her photographic portraits. From the age of thirteen until the age of 23, when she committed suicide, she captured her body in dark spaces, moving, disappearing, transforming, becoming one with the hard surfaces of her surroundings. In almost empty rooms her nude body merges with the landscape, in what seems to be an emotional intermezzo of life and death, a song about pain, some words to forget a lost love.

From Angel Series, Rome, 1977


In a photograph from her Angel Series, an arm is holding a white sheet through a door frame in an empty room. The rooms are always empty, or filled with memories, of ghosts, of lost dreams, of desires. And the body metamorphoses, disappears, becomes a phantom, is always in-between.


House #3, 1976

The harsh surfaces of inner spaces, of dirty walls and broken windows become haunted with images, words and feelings, while the body becomes a ghostly presence. The image captures the desolation and emptiness of the room and of the human psyche. The juxtaposition of the deserted room and the faceless abandoned body are intensely unveiled creating anxiety, fear and sadness.


 House #4, Providence, Rhode Island, 1976

 Woodman’s gothic worlds are claustrophobic and dark. Her images capture the nightmarish stasis of existence and the solemn boundaries of bodies, objects, of outside and inside. The solitude of the domestic space, a space that should be inviting and familiar, reflects the human existence of nothingness. There is a terrible feeling of something caught in-between, a phantasmatic space where there is no way out, no place for refuge, no outside. Being seems to be a frightening, fragile limit, a border between broken walls, fireplaces, memories, bodies present in absentia. And this reminds me of what Pierre-Jean Jouve once wrote, “For we are where we are not.”





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