Francesca Woodman’s Artistic Take On Fashion

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Francesca Woodman, Self-portrait talking to Vince, Providence, Rhode Island, 1977 © George and Betty Woodman

Artist Francesca Woodman is recognized worldwide for her haunting photography work. Her dark, concealed images have helped make her name iconic in the modern art scene. Her talent at such a young age, most of her work was completed while in school, and her early death at 22 in 1982 has also added to her iconic status.  Many credit the works of Surrealists and Victorian images as inspiration behind Francesca’s work, but there was another factor that helped shaped her art, fashion.

Fashion photography, specifically the works of Deborah Turbeville, was a major influence in Francesca’s work. The two photographers both used angled posing, slow exposure, and static, yet gothic feelings. Soon after her death, Francesca’s father found an unsent letter to Turbeville.

This connection served as the basis behind the 2015 exhibit, I’m Trying My Hand At Fashion, at the Marian Goodman Gallery. Referencing a hand scribbled title on one of her polaroids, the exhibit explored how Francesca mirrored “the paradigms pioneered by the triumvirate of fashion photographers the ruled the pages of Vogue in the late 1970s.” In the exhibit’s guide, Alison Gingeras writes that, “Woodman’s images were liberately constructed to entice the viewer into consuming a complex story rather than the products.” She also notes, “From an early age, she had a “conceptual understanding of fashion as a powerful signifier and performative tool.”

The sartorial aspect of Francesca Woodman was of a purist bohemian style that is popular today. Less concerned with being stylish, she often layered loose, bohemian clothing with a middle parted hairstyle and few accessories. She also sported knitted sweaters and midi skirts in an oversized and plain style that is still mimicked today.

As the art world is continuing to discover Woodman’s work, more facets of her inspiration are coming through. Although fashion photography was only one of her sources, it’s still a strong connection that fashion can be art and art can be fashion.

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