Francesca Woodman, Polka Dots, 1976
Francesca Woodman (1958-1981) was an American photographer known for her black & white photographs featuring herself and other female models, often nude. Woodman began taking pictures of herself as early as thirteen, when she was still in her hometown of Boulder, Colorado. Beginning in 1975, she began attending the Rhode Island School of Design and studied abroad in Rome. Many of Woodman's photographs feature blurred figures, due to movement and long exposures, as well as distorted and obscured faces. In Polka Dots, Woodman crouches in a dilapidated room. Woodman appears somewhat small, only a feature of this crumbling room. Her dress is torn, exposing her, but she holds the dress with one hand and covers her mouth with the other. Woodman is simultaneously exposed and hidden, naked and obscured. We repeatedly see the same dichotomy in her work. Here her pose also suggests hiding, as though she has been caught sneaking away, but she makes eye contact with the viewer. Over and over, we see Woodman displaying ambivalence about being seen. This creates great tension in her work, and a voyeuristic discomfort. We cannot tell if the subject is comfortable being looked at, so we feel uncomfortable looking. There is a deep sadness in many of Woodman's photographs, which only becomes more pronounced with the knowledge that she killed herself at age twenty-two.