Back in the 1970s, decades before the age of daily selfies, female photographers were already attempting to answer the existential question of “Who am I?” through the medium of the self-portrait. Among them was American photographer Francesca Woodman, who started devoting her tragically short life to photography when she was only 13.
I first came across Woodman’s work at her retrospective at Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in 2012. I was there to lose myself in the maze of Frank Lloyd Wright’s building but instead I fell for her photography. I was stunned by the boldness of her art – she wasn’t playing the game of prettifying herself/satisfying anyone else’s gaze (she was too cool for that), she was trying to redefine what it means to be female, to be human.
In a photograph from the Angel series (1977-1978) Woodman posed as an angel leaping into space with joy, her features blurred and the shackles of her wings left resolutely behind. In another photograph from the same series she looked unflinchingly at her camera with her head and breasts held high, all unsmiling and unapologetic, harboring secrets only she knew.
Woodman often photographed herself merged with her surroundings – in a photograph from the Space2 series (1975-1978) she was seen camouflaging her face and body with torn shreds of wallpapers in a dilapidated house. In Untitled, Boulder, Colorado (1976) she was pictured caressing the root of a tree while half submerged in water, like a mermaid coming up for sweet breath.
Looking at Woodman’s work one can’t help but get the feeling that she wanted to feel so much that she craved to be one with her obsessions, be it abandoned buildings or trees. And this is why for this year her photograph will be my wallpaper – to remind myself that it is ok to feel, nay, that it is beautiful to feel as deep as the root of a tree.