Like many of my fellow sexy nerds, I’m all about watching documentaries on Netflix. All the times! They can be about many various things: war, inventions, history in general, but especially the intense or icky bits, odd “animal couples” (Spoiler Alert: that old horse totally dies and leaves his goat buddy all alone! It’s not as bad as Artax in the Swamp of Sadness, though.), interesting people, the ocean, diseases, why ships sink, the madness that is North Korea, whatever. The point is, you can point and click on anything that sounds vaguely entertaining, immediately stream the fascinating learning, or shut that boring shit down and find another temporary obsession!
All that is to say, I was completely enamored by one of the really good ones last night called “The Woodmans” about the photographer Francesca Woodman, and featuring her work, journal entries and interviews with friends and family. Francesca was born in the late 1950s, and produced works throughout the late 1970s and into the early 1980s. She (successfully) committed suicide at the age of 22, by leaping off a building.
Given that all this took place in the 70s, and an exhibition of her work was presented in the 90s, I feel like I may be sharing old information, however, I was taken aback by how raw, personal and unapologetic her work is. Most of her photographs and videos include nude female forms (usually her own), and somehow it doesn’t seem at all gratuitous. Sexy, inappropriate, suggestive, evocative, enchanting and vulnerable, absolutely, but her intention seems to be to explore physical relationships and manipulate spaces. (Also, growing up as the child of two working artists, I’m pretty sure she could count on one hand the classical works she saw that did not feature nude bodies.)
This is one of many reasons her work continues to resonate with people all over the world. She combined her sophisticated style, raw talent and passion, as well as her extensive background as an art observer. The resulting photographs are basically brilliant and years ahead of their time. (Anthropologie would give up all the $400 themed sweaters for this woman design their catalogs.)
All that is to say, since I was previously unaware of this brilliant woman’s work, I was somewhat shocked by her boldness, and nudity. Not shocked by seeing the female form, so much as her willingness to expose herself both emotionally and physically. It occurred to me that, despite my amazing “awakening” at being nude with strangers in a Korean spa in Seoul a few Spring Breaks ago, I don’t feel like I have that kind of what let’s call “body freedom.”
If I’m approaching her work as a young woman who considers herself a creative person (which I am), I can’t help but ponder the above, and how I might have reacted to Francesca if I met her and she asked me to participate in her photography. I would have been terrified, excited and extremely aware of my naked body. Given her complicated relationships with both friends and lovers, as well as her subsequent depression and suicide, I don’t know how comfortable she was in her own skin, either. That, however, did not stop her from expressing every inch of herself through her art.
Along with the inherent personal tragedies that go along with stifling your own creativity, self doubt, especially originating from a negative body image, effects women in horrible ways. I think Francesca’s story inspired me to ponder this in a new way, and to appreciate someone who lived and died 40 years ago for her exquisite strength and immense talent. Many of the people interviewed for this documentary mentioned her inherent “delicacy” and “sensitivity.” I’m sure she exhibited these, and many other feminine traits, but I think it took a very brave woman to make what she created.
For those of you who are familiar with her work, what are your thoughts? Any insights regarding her character, work or the documentary? Newbies like myself, are you impacted by her work? Do you see vulnerability as her weakness or strength? How do you think you would have reacted to an invitation to participate?