Women Photographers and Feminist Aesthetics

Investigation of the photography of Ana Mendieta and Francesca Woodman.

Words by

Claire Raymond

Fig 5.10 © Francesca Woodman, House #3, Providence, Rhode Island, 1976,23⁄8 ×67⁄16 in. Courtesy George and Betty Woodman.

The book Women Photographers and Feminist Aesthetics by Claire Raymond makes the case for a feminist aesthetics in photography by analysing key works of twenty-two women photographers, including cis- and trans-woman photographers. Claire Raymond provides close readings of key photographs spanning the history of photography, from nineteenth-century Europe to twenty-first century Africa and Asia. She offers original interpretations of well-known photographers such as Diane Arbus, Sally Mann, and Carrie Mae Weems, analysing their work in relation to gender, class, and race. The book also pays close attention to the way in which indigenous North Americans have been represented through photography and the ways in which contemporary Native American women photographers respond to this history. In this part she investigates the photography of Ana Mendieta and Francesca Woodman.

This is a reprint of the Chapter 5 Afterimages Ana Mendieta and Francesca Woodman by Claire Raymond, with the permission of the author.

Photographer Francesca Woodman and photographer and earthworks and body artist Ana Mendieta share the unhappy fate of being artists who did not get the chance to develop their work over the course of a long life; Woodman died at 22 and Mendieta at 36. And yet, Mendieta’s photographic recording of her earthworks and body performances shapes a multimedia oeuvre of great significance, while Francesca Woodman’s enigmatic photographs constitute one of the most fascinating bodies of photographic work produced in the later twentieth century. 1The question of whether the early deaths of these artists set the stage for interest in their art after their deaths is complicated. The cultural allure of the woman who dies while young is deeply entrenched in the Western aesthetic, glamorized in the mid-nineteenth century and manifested in the late-twentieth-century popular- ity of the ultrathin, brink-of-death waif look.2 In a troubling way, Mendieta and Woodman seem to gain artistic stature by dying horrible and early deaths, and yet these artists’ photographic works also predict, exploit, and subvert our culture’s desire for the sacrificial figure of the deathly, beautiful woman. For Woodman and Mendieta do not directly owe their current reputations as artists to their scandalous deaths. Instead, their art stages, confronts, rebuts, and overturns the valorization of the deathly, passive feminine, even as the terms of this cultural feminine haunt the reception of their work.

Born 10 years apart, Ana Mendieta (1948–1985) and Francesca Woodman (1958–1981) participated in very different ways in the feminist art of the 1970s. In the late 1970s, Mendieta was active in the A.I.R. gallery, an all-woman feminist collective in Manhattan. Her photographed earthworks and body works present a fusion of cultural feminist bodily representation with broader sculptural interest in earthworks. During this time, Woodman was a student at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) who expressed the feminist art zeitgeist by creating a large number of photographs of herself nude.3 Both Mendieta and Woodman gesture    obliquely but unmistakably to feminist performance art of the 1970s – art that laid claim to and celebrated woman’s embodied experience.4 Carolee Schneeman, Judy Chicago, and Miriam Schapiro emphasized in their work aspects of female embodi- ment that had hitherto been considered taboo, improper for fine art.5 Mendieta and Woodman, then, are of the same era in American art even as their personal back- grounds are very different. Both focus a significant portion of their work on tracing, representing, and photographing the female body. Mendieta creates the temporally expansive Silueta Series, and Woodman creates an oeuvre of small black-and-white photographs, including the House, Space, Space2, and Angels series, several notable diazotypes, and her much larger masterwork, Blueprint for a Temple.6

Although Mendieta and Woodman emerge from the body-oriented feminist art movement of the 1970s, they diverge from artists such as Carolee Schneeman, Mary Beth Edelson and Hannah Wilke by creating works that formally (that is, through a skewing of form) trouble and swerve from the represented presence of the female body. They show that body as trace, echo, and blur, and they predict the feminism of the late twentieth century in that their depictions of the female body show its elusion. Mendieta’s and Woodman’s photographs, though, push far beyond the truisms of deconstructivist feminism. They engage the female body as a template for exploring the mark of time, mortality, citizenship, and ontology – that is, the meaning of being.They explore the embodiment of fate – gender as fate – in their photographic works. By invoking the term fate, I do not mean that Mendieta and Woodman were passive and helpless in their art. I mean that their art predicts and shows the limitations of poststructuralist feminist theory that postulates gender as a series of performative gestures. Pushing beyond notions of the performative, the two artists show gender as a form of haunting, a fate that catches or marks the subject despite and even against her own choices and will.7 Their art does not advocate acceptance of this fate. Indeed, it is exactly in the depth and the power with which they show gender as fate that inheres their refusal of its terms. Fate is the circumstance that catches the subject unprepared; gender, as explored visually in Wood- man’s and Mendieta’s work, surfaces as a force that catches the subject unprepared. Their work visually iterates the struggle and force of returning to substance, as the self is caught in the matrix of materiality. In visually evoking the tactile, haptic, and textural, their art stages extraordinary resistance to superficial theories of gender as performance and also to the bitterly entrenched ways that a woman becomes a woman because of how she is culturally seen. The violence of their work breaks apart received ways of seeing and opens new opportunities to comprehend not only gender but also exile, earth, space, mortality, and time.

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Fig. 5.1 Ana Mendieta, Untitled: Silueta Series, 1976, earth/bodywork, Mexico, 35mm color slides. © The Estate of Ana Mendieta Collection, L.L.C., Courtesy Galerie Lelong, New York.

Ana Mendieta’s Invisible Photographs

Ana Mendieta was active until the mid-1980s.8 I write about her photographic works because photographs and a not-insignificant collection of films are what is principally left of her oeuvre. That said, Mendieta is generally regarded as an earthworks and body artist.9 Mendieta’s career indeed shows an uncanny aspect of photography, its ability to consume and transpose different art forms. She produced hundreds of photographs, mainly slides, documenting and recording her earthworks performances, and I will focus on the ones from her Silueta Series.10 While Mendieta was alive and producing her art, she considered her photographs to be documents of her earthworks and body works; even so, I suggest that her photographs are primary artistic legacy.11 Roland Barthes’s argument that we perceive the image rather than the photograph – “it is not it that we see” – is especially true of Ana Mendieta’s body of work.12 She continues to be widely interpreted as an earth- works and body artist even as her fame has ascended exponentially after her death, a fame that largely rests on the photographic images she created. A respected artist before her death, Mendieta yet struggled for major gallery and museum representation.13 After her death, her photographs and other works are represented by the prestigious Galerie LeLong, and her work has been displayed in New York City’s Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and London’s Southbank Centre. I mention these facts not to suggest that having one’s work shown in well-regarded galleries and museums has aesthetic meaning in itself – it does not – but instead to make clear that Mendieta’s reputation as an artist has grown significantly stronger in the decades after her death.14 Since she is no longer alive to perform earthworks and body works, one must conclude that her ascent in reputation is based in part on the photographs that document her earthworks and body works. Many of these were slides, created to be shown with a projector. The materiality of photographic slides aligns with Mendieta’s somewhat uncanny oeuvre: slides are too tiny to view accurately with the naked eye, but when projected the image will fill a wall as a kind of phantasmagoric monument. On this wall, it has an immaterial quality, entirely projected light and image. Yet it also has the force of a large work, filling the wall. Mendieta seems to have chosen slides for their convenience as documentation of her earthworks, but it is worth considering how the uncanny materiality of slides supports the haunting discourse of her oeuvre, its thematics of exile and trace, presence in absence.

Mendieta was born in Cuba into a wealthy and politically powerful family that fell from favor when Castro came to power. In an effort to save their children, her parents sent Ana, then age 12, and her elder sister, Raquelin, to the United States through Operation Peter Pan, and they entered foster care in Iowa.15 The state proved a cruel place for Mendieta, because it was rife with racism. She later remembered being called the “little whore” by her Iowa classmates, simply because of the color of her skin.16 At the University of Iowa, Mendieta enrolled in the master of arts program, where she met Hans Breder, a teacher who became her lover. Traveling with Breder to Mexico, Mendieta began to create her numerically massive Silueta Series in the early 1970s. While Breder was photographing Mendieta nude at La Ventosa, Mendieta was creating some of the most striking images in this series.

The Silueta images that Mendieta created at Salina Cruz (1976) are among the most powerful in the larger series of images that she called Siluetas (Figures 5.1–5.9).17

Focusing my discussion on this very small subset of images drawn from the enormous Silueta Series, I choose images that stand out as exemplary. And yet, to begin to grasp Mendieta’s work, one must view as many of the Siluetas as possible. Only such viewing of this massive series that Mendieta continued to develop until her death reveals the obsessive force with which Mendieta approached and worked through the problem of how to represent, in photographs, the pain of exile. The Silueta Series is a work that, in the years when she was creating it, Mendieta claimed would have no end. The images photographed at Salina Cruz show the outline of a woman’s body that Mendieta traced in the sand near the boundary of the ocean. Along the traced outline, she has placed red pigment. As the ocean tide rises, it progressively sweeps the figure into the water (Figures 5.1–5.9). Mendieta shot the photographs low and at close frame so that nothing could be seen apart from the essential elements of the earthworks performance: the sand, the ocean, the outline of the woman’s form, and the red tinge. The close frame gives a sense of intimacy and sparseness to the image. There are no people, just a feminine outline that is eroded by the waves. There is no sky, just water, sand, and red. The sense of desolation is palpable.

Fig 5.2 Ana Mendieta, Untitled: Silueta Series, 1976, earth/bodywork, Mexico, 35mm color slides. © The Estate of Ana Mendieta Collection, L.L.C., Courtesy Galerie Lelong, New York.
Fig. 5.4 Ana Mendieta, Untitled: Silueta Series, 1976, earth/bodywork, Mexico, 35mm color slides. © The Estate of Ana Mendieta Collection, L.L.C., Courtesy Galerie Lelong, New York.

But to say that Mendieta is creating images of disappearance is a false reading. Instead, she is marking the earth with the female body’s outline and the red pigment. The way the ocean slowly erodes the contours of this mark is expressed photographically as a series: Mendieta photographs the erosion of the outline she has made. The photographs then become a more permanent mark and in this sense double the Silueta, thus standing as a record of the marks Mendieta has made on the earth. Never the story of disappearance, her photographs documenting earthworks and body performance insist on the artist’s capacity to make her mark even as the images profoundly evoke the sense of personal anguish that comes with exile and loss of one’s homeland.

The elements of the color red and the ocean suggest Santería, an Afro-Caribbean religion that incorporates elements of Roman Catholicism. Mendieta was well versed in Santería, although she was raised Roman Catholic.18 In the Salina Cruz series of Silueta, Mendieta conjures Yemaya, the mother-goddess who lives in the ocean, whereas the red set by the feminine outline suggests blood. The images, though, supersede and can be read without knowledge of Santería. They show a profound dispossession and express the condition of exile and loss: a small feminine outline eroded and cast adrift into the ocean. But the idea that Mendieta is simply staging feminine erasure in the Silueta Series does not begin to limn how instead the images show dissolution and return: what goes into the ocean does not disappear but becomes part of the ocean, circling with the currents and insistently returning to shore. The back-and-forth motion of the waves skew temporal readings of the photographs so that there is no exact moment at which the mark of the outline is effaced but rather several scenes of formal interaction between the ocean and the woman’s outline, as gradually the ocean and the outline merge.

Mendieta traces her personal and political experience of exile in these images by elegantly limned symbolic form. The rise of her reputation as an artist in the twenty-first century rests on the unique power of her photographic work to simultaneously evoke the experience of exile, orphanhood, and the claiming of place or the making of one’s mark no matter how fate conspires to cause one’s silence. Her Silueta photographs explore with power and persistence the condition of exile and loss and the longing for return to a homeland that Mendieta uses as a metaphor for womb-like and maternal.19 Their power is to set a claim on a place, no matter how dispossessed one is.20

The dissolution of the figure of the feminine that Mendieta repeatedly stages in her haunting Silueta photographs is not a personal confession of her desire to not exist. Instead, the Siluetas call the viewer to contend with her own lost places and her own claim on place, especially her claim on spaces from which she has been cast out. Mendieta stamps the earth with her Silueta earthworks, and the voluminous body of photographs that document her Silueta Series stands as one of the most important interventions in feminist art of the late twentieth century. I say this because Mendieta’s photographic work contends with issues of exile and the lost condition of the human in ways that go beneath and beyond the obsession with costumery and performativity made popular in the late twentieth century by Judith Butler and Cindy Sherman. In the twenty-first century, the problem of displaced persons, exiles, and refugees is epidemic. Mendieta’s oeuvre, and especially her photography, addresses this problem of exile. Mendieta is an important photographer because the fearless and brilliant works that she created show the orphanhood of existence – the state of exile – which is more and more common in our twenty- first-century world. Her work evokes the necessity of claiming one’s place even in this fragile and shifting terrain. This ability of Mendieta’s Silueta photographs to evoke the state of the exile and to shape a visceral facing of it makes her work of increasing importance and concern in the twenty-first century.

Fig 5.10 © Francesca Woodman, House #3, Providence, Rhode Island, 1976,23⁄8 ×67⁄16 in. Courtesy George and Betty Woodman. 


Francesca Woodman’s House

Born in Boulder, Colorado, in 1958, Francesca Woodman was something of a photography prodigy. She began taking striking and memorable photographs as a young teen. By the time she was in her late teens and early twenties, she was already producing a body of work that ultimately would place her among the more interesting, evocative, and debated photographers of the late twentieth century. Although Woodman created her photographs from the early 1970s until her death by suicide in 1981, her reputation as a photographer is largely a twenty- first-century phenomenon. Some six years after her death, Woodman’s mother, the ceramic artist Betty Woodman, engineered a small exhibition of Francesca Wood- man photographs at Wellesley College Museum in Wellesley, Massachusetts. The exhibit featured catalog essays by prominent feminist art historians, notably including Abigail Solomon-Godeau, whose essay “Just Like a Woman” is a classic feminist analysis of Woodman’s work.21 In 1998, Fondation Cartier mounted an exhibit in Paris, and Scalo Publishers brought out an important book of Woodman’s photo- graphs, featuring essays by the likes of philosopher Philippe Sollers.22 In 2004, the Marian Goodman Gallery in New York City featured Woodman’s work, and the photographer’s reputation began to gather steam. In 2006, Phaidon Press brought out a splendid collection of her photographs.23 In 2010, the first full-length mono- graph on Woodman’s work appeared.24 In 2011 and 2012, her work was shown at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Guggenheim Museum in NewYork City and at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.25 Thirty years after her death, the photography prodigy had arrived.26

But this posthumous reputation created Francesca Woodman as a kind of cult phenomenon, a photographer adored by some outside of the art world and debated or even disparaged within it. Art historian Carol Armstrong writes that a male col- league responded dismissively to her article on Francesca Woodman by questioning her attention to the achievement of an adolescent: opines Armstrong, “I think he may have meant an adolescent girl’s achievement.”27

Fig 5.11 © Francesca Woodman, From Space2, Providence, Rhode Island, 1976, gelatin silverprint, 23⁄8 × 67⁄16 in. Courtesy George and Betty Woodman.

Woodman’s status as a very young woman when she created her photographic oeuvre erects a barrier to her work being taken seriously. Despite the power of her photographs and despite the fact that major museums have exhibited and purchased her work, art historians who write on Woodman are almost always women writing feminist theory. That does not misrepresent Woodman’s photography – her work draws powerfully on themes of gender – but it does reflect the excessive gendering of Woodman’s corpus. She is not a photographer about whom esteemed male art historians seem to care to spend their time studying and writing (David Levi Strauss and Benjamin Buchloh being significant exceptions). Even so, Francesca Woodman attracts a kind of popular adulation that only the Internet age could measure. She is tweeted and blogged about, and digital versions of her photographs circulate widely. Not only is her posthumous fame something that occurred in the twenty-first century, but also the viewing habits of the twenty-first century seem matched to her enigmatic, quixotic work. Each time we look at a Francesca Woodman photograph online, we see an image the artist did not intend to take up space on the gallery or museum wall – unlike the work of many professional photographers. Instead, her work reads like a secret door into a mystery, uncannily appropriate to float randomly up through the flotsam and jetsam of the Internet. The reason Woodman’s work was not intended to fill a gallery wall is that she died before she was invited to have gallery representation. Near the end of her life, Woodman did display the work Blueprint for a Temple in Manhattan’s Alternative Museum.

Her later works in diazotype are large, most notably the Blueprint for a Temple,

which is 15 feet high and originally (when Woodman showed the work shortly before her death) filled two walls of the Alternative Museum, whereas her earlier black and white photographs are quite tiny, 5 inches by 7 inches or smaller. Despite her later turn toward a monumental scale, Woodman’s work has been called diaristic, that is, like diary pictures. But on the contrary, her enigmatic photographs confess nothing personal – thematizing instead time, space, mortality, and  embodiment. Woodman’s photograph My House and her House and Space2 series (1975–1976) present the photograph as a kind of fate, something that seals an event in its ineluctable that-has-been-ness, “a fugitive but certain testimony.”28 These images are not necessarily the most important and substantial of Woodman’s work – her later diazotypes fill this role – but these series represent Woodman’s quintessential work, that by which most audiences, if they know her, recognize her.29 In these photographs, this testimony of gender as fate works at a slant to late-twentieth-century theories of gender as an apparent garment effected by language, discourse, sign.30 In Woodman’s photographs, gender is a sign that, in its very excessiveness, returns and wounds the subject, becoming fate.

Even as the House and Space2 images showcase temporal distortions (Figures 5.10 and 5.11), in these images Woodman’s affinities with the feminist performance art of her era are striking. Her work elides the boundaries between genres, thus coming to rest as photography not so much in its inception as in its reception.31 I do not mean that Woodman did not conceive of herself as a photographer: clearly, she did. But the genius of Woodman’s work is the scene, the symbolic torque. Her power is oneiric and her work has the aura of fate. In this, she deploys the photograph as a sign of fate – never an actual truth but an encoding of image that appears as truth – that which is written for us. The photographs of the House and Space2 series and the image, My House, stage a young woman, Woodman herself, as the double of dilapidated interiors rich with visual rhymes that reveal formal consanguinities between the ruined architectural spaces and the young woman inhabiting them (Figures 5.10, 5.11, and 5.12). As Chris Townsend rightly points out, Woodman diverges from the Pictures Generation, which emphasized pastiche and repetition of stock images and with which she is contemporaneous, in that her photographs visually quote from the history of European art, not commercial images.32 Importantly, I would add, they carry a sense of depth that is an always indicated, never revealed intimacy and expanse. Woodman’s abandoned house images are hauntingly real, even as they were entirely staged.33 Woodman went to abandoned spaces, moved in props, and photographed herself amid very carefully planned and constructed scenes. Meaghan Thurston has elegantly described Woodman’s photographic use of the body in domestic space.34 I have articulated this theme as Woodman’s relationship to architecture, to built space.35 In the House and Space2 photographs, Woodman’s body is the formal symbol that carries present time through the time-as-the-past space of the abandoned house (Figure 5.10 and 5.11). Here, the fate of the gendered subject is invoked through melancholy reflection. Photographs, as Barthes argues, are tied to time, and the eidos of the photograph is time, its passage, and its mortal light.36 Woodman’s photographs exemplify this photographic idea of the passage of time – the body’s vulnerability to time. They achieve this transformation by invoking gender with the young female body becoming in Woodman’s work the eloquent descriptor of fate: what happens no matter how hard we try not to let it happen. Here, I want to emphasize that I do not mean that Woodman takes photo- graphs of her actual fate; rather, I mean that her photographs exemplify that quality in photography that presents the past – any past – as if it were the only possible path. A sense of the inevitable attends Woodman’s images even as they protest that end. In this sense, they are rigorously honest images of gender as a force that often eludes the subject’s attempts to escape its domain. And yet precisely by showing this tight space of gender-as-fate, Woodman protests it and opens for her viewers possibilities of transcendence and transformation that are beyond restrictive codes of the gendered self and of the self as such.

Fig. 5.12 © Francesca Woodman, My House, Providence, Rhode Island, 1976, 53⁄4 ×55⁄8 in. Courtesy George and Betty Woodman.


Domain

With the disembodied and denaturalized fecundity of photography, Francesca Woodman’s series in abandoned houses is pensive in the sense that Barthes describes – the pensive image causes one to think because it cannot be easily read.37 Her black-and-white photographs from this era are typically very small prints; in this sense they seem private and demand concentrated, close-up viewing. For the House and Space2 series, Woodman comes to the abandoned house, that house where no housework has been done for years, and increases its disarray. She peels already peeling wallpaper further from walls, brings scavenged ruined objects into the house, and scatters plaster on the already dirty floors.38 She exaggerates – makes excessive – the melancholy of an abandoned house. Woodman undoes the cover of domesticity in the abandoned spaces she photographs, marking them as her own by performing the opposite of housework. Instead of hiding time’s marks, Woodman exaggerates time’s marks in abandoned spaces wherein time’s marks are already well shown. Having thus prepared the scenes, she takes her photographs. Instead of erasing the marks of time, Woodman causes those marks to pose, to hold still. Not erasing the mark of time as fate, Woodman slows it, stills it. In these two series, she poses the house at its ruinous edge where it will no longer offer safety to inhabitants but instead will show us our fragility, our need for cover, and the limits of that cover (Figures 5.10–5.12). The pose, as Barthes argues, is the essence of the photograph: a photographic image forces the physical and visible world to hold still.39 In her House and Space2 series and in the image My House, Woodman poses as the singular union of house- wife, housekeeper, and vestal daughter, whose insoluble grief, or rage, opens the disarray of the house to sight. More than simply a rebellion against the terms of femininity – although these photographs do act rebelliously – the pose of Woodman, the woman who freezes time rather than removes it, is not so much an anti-housewife as a repudiating claim on the house. Woodman instates a scene of pain at the origin: the ersatz familial house.

Woodman’s poses in the decrepit, abandoned domestic space play on well- established tropes of gender. The hearth, which traditionally suggests the vestal daughter, is central to some of the images. The diaphanous garments of torn paper, the Mary Jane shoes, and the plastic wrap used as clothing (Figures 5.10–5.12) all strike home by conveying concentric circles of gendered inscriptions. Woodman allows the garment of light to pose across her and across the rooms, in uncanny technique, poised between performance and the negation of performance. Her visual domain is the image that constitutes the edge of claim. In the photograph My House and in the House and Space2 series, the formal symbol of the daughter Woodman portrays returns to a house that cannot protect her from fate. Instead, this entirely photographic house can only perform fate.

Gender as fate

Ana Mendieta theorized and conceptualized her work’s relationship to gender, describing her earthworks as an attempt to connect with the womb of the earth,40 but Francesca Woodman did not write about feminism in a theorized way. Although seeming to agree with its tenets, Woodman apparently felt that feminism was not of much practical use.41 For Mendieta, the inscription of gender as fate came to appear overdetermined after her death: it seems that her husband, Carl Andre, may have caused her death.42 Even so, Mendieta’s fidelity to representing the female figure, in her Silueta Series and in several other performance pieces, creates a dialogue around the gendered figure that subverts notions of gender as costume and frames the seriousness (and pain) of gendered fate.43 In Woodman’s work, gender is played through and visually theorized: her art contemplates links among gender, fate, visuality, and photography. The risk of such work is that Woodman deploys this category of fate as an embodied force, a problem to solve visually in photographs that push the nude female figure to the edge. Woodman’s typical refusal to show the face of her photographed subject – many of her photographs are images of Woodman her- self – makes of the female body an iconic rather than a personal mark, not unlike Mendieta’s outlines of the feminine figure in her Siluetas (Figure 5.13). In this image, Woodman poses above the outline of her body traced in flour on the floor (Figure 5.13). In an ingenious combination of wry humor and pathos, she stages the body’s outline and its evanescence, even as she figurally envisions herself, nude but for her Mary Janes, in a chair looking down at what appears to be the mark of her own vanishing. The outline, here, evokes traditional police use of an outline to mark the fallen body of a victim, and yet Woodman’s very young and healthy living body perched above the outline not only visually skews the formal shape of the image but also symbolically alters the work to be not about vanishing or a desire to vanish but rather the intelligence and the will to stand apart – in ecstasy and enlightenment – and see the transience of one’s physical self. Her photographs work against acceptance of the fate of gender even as they mourn the way gender stakes its claim on the subject in advance of the subject’s efforts to reinscribe a self.


Whom do I haunt?

Going to abandoned houses, Francesca Woodman investigates the posture of the revenant. The houses haunt her, and through her photographs of abandoned domestic spaces, Woodman troubles us. Whereas Carol Armstrong argues that Woodman is a ghost in the house of the woman artist, and Katherine Conley locates Woodman as a surrealist ghost, I suggest that Woodman, no ghost, is intent on photographing the house of the visible and the relationship of time to this house.44 She uses her body as a symbol of the risk of both claiming and refusing to inhabit a house if the terms of this house degrade one. As stated by the title of her photograph My House, Woodman does not imagine herself inhabiting someone else’s house, but instead claims her own place: the house is hers. Her house is more expansive and far rougher than that of the polished grande dame.

Woodman’s House and Space2 photographs, however, do have a clear relation- ship to a precursor work of feminist art: Womanhouse.45 Woodman is likely to have been aware of California Institute of the Arts Feminist Art Program’s Womanhouse given the prominence of Judy Chicago and Miriam Shapiro, who spearheaded the performance and exhibition, and given Womanhouse’s near proximity in time to Woodman’s own work. The influence of Womanhouse is fateful in Woodman’s photographs. Like the creators of Womanhouse, Woodman seeks an abandoned house in which to create her work. But if Womanhouse is a kind of public protest art,Woodman takes a turn to the interior in her housework. Through the work of photo- graphing a house, Woodman creates the melancholy, private images of

material fate that is a form of return.

By performing for her own camera in an abandoned house, Woodman points to the damning cultural narrative that merges woman with house, that makes the house an imprimatur – as Barthes would define the word, a myth – of the cultural interpretation that a woman goes into a house to be somehow contained within it, that a woman’s relationship to a house is one of submission, even by dint of being protected, rather than of ownership.46 Instead, Woodman claims the house as her own and accepts the risks of its rough edge. Denying herself a comforting domestic, she reaches past protest to a kind of sublimity that is a rapprochement with self-denial. Beyond the abandoned house photographs, she shows the place of fate also by her use of doubling and the visual rhymes that make up the subtext of many of her photographs. The divided and echoed subject is both on the floor and standing above her double (Figure 5.13), and in other photographs the structural parallels between Woodman’s body and a bird wing, a fish skeleton, a taxidermy fox, and eels are played through in further structural parallels with the architecture that contains the woman’s body. This use of doubling, wherein the house that is falling apart is coded to stand with the woman who inhabits the house, poses photographic fate. The figure of the house’s inhabitant is marked by light, effaced by light, and preserved by light in the photograph’s persistence. She is the double of time: torn wallpaper is her garment, oversaturated with light, and then light is her garment, almost swallowing the figure (Figure 5.10).


Melancholy of photography

Barthes defines the punctum as the place in the photograph that marks the viewer, the place where the photograph establishes itself as part of the viewer’s fate, as it were specific to her.47 The punctum of photography then is its melancholy or, as Barthes writes, its “tyche,” the place where the reality of time touches the viewer. Working along similarly oblique lines, Jacques Derrida asks “Whom do I haunt?” as a constitutive question, going on to posit that those whom “I” haunt are those who are wounded, painfully or pleasurably, by me; I am formed by those whom I haunt.48 Conversely, those who haunt me are my fate. Francesca Woodman’s photographs in an abandoned house invoke her audience because the photographs show Woodman as one who is haunted by the visual terms of gender, implicated in the mortal gaze of the photograph: she is not a ghost in anyone’s house but instead a purveyor of the cultural force – through photographic images – of haunting. Woodman’s images employ and embody the melancholy of fate that is woman’s figural conscription at (and as) the site of this repetition of gender. Woodman’s photographs prick us with the fate of being gendered, released from that fate only if also cast out of the house.

The fatedness of gender is evident also in the way that Woodman’s abandoned house photographs show her staying in the house through the process of its desolation and destruction.49 To paraphrase Philippe Sollers, Francesca Woodman is more risked than anyone, at least in the visual lexicon of her photographs. Woodman’s photographs pose a melancholy effect of gender as repetition of fate, poised not at the boundary but in the boundary: her photographs stage transcendence as risk. Rather than confronting sexist oppression directly in the way of its predecessor Womanhouse, Woodman’s House and Space2 series perform as melancholy photography. They are images that say gender codes will not change in bright unity, but in the severe task of changing form, often in ulterior psychic spaces, and at personal risk. Woodman’s House and Space2 series come after the early 1970s performance space Womanhouse not just in time but in telos (or goal); her photographs aim to express the melancholy recognition that mutatis mutandis (despite changes, the main point stays the same); despite feminism, a woman whose art goes against the grain is a woman at risk.

In these images, Francesca Woodman is haunted by her precursors – the house of the woman artist was already filled with ghosts long before Woodman came on the scene.50 Woodman’s house shows a space where writing, reinscription, will not reach: the photograph as the space of fate cannot be rewritten, the photo- graph cannot be transformed once it is made. In its essence, a photograph cannot be transformed, only manipulated. (Consider photomontage and composite photography, and photoshop, not as transformative of the photographic image itself, however much they may be transformative for works of art.) But for just this reason Woodman’s photographs have the traction that opens to transformation. The uncanny and displaced positions that Woodman creates in her photographs speak to a kind of social violence entailed in a woman’s efforts to create a self, and they shape a haunted space wherein the young woman is engaged in an immense struggle with the house. The fate of the house is photographic image, that is, space swallowed by time. Although one may interpret Woodman’s use of blur in some of the House and Space photographs as importing ghostliness to the images, here blur articulates her struggle with her house – of inheritance, of future, of self-as- artist, and of the always enigmatic otherness of the figural in time (Figure 5.10). For Woodman, blur is necessary for this housework of alterity: she is fighting for her place in space and time, making a rough chrysalis of the abandoned house that she claims as her own.51


Francesca Woodman’s Zen

In Photography Degree Zero, Jay Prosser writes persuasively about the Buddhist strand in Barthes’s Camera Lucida, arguing that here, in his last book, Barthes the semiotician confronts or is forced to come up against the limits of words.52 Prosser emphasizes what he sees as the photograph’s connection to trauma, a connection that Prosser argues is inherent to Barthes’s theory of the photograph as memento mori. This trauma Prosser does not interpret along the lines of contemporary Western trauma theory but instead along the lines of Buddhist notions of the fleeting emptiness of the physical world, the illusion of stability that surrounds those things that occupy time and space.

Francesca Woodman’s images in an abandoned house and her Angels series of images occupy time and space with a visceral code of risk or pain. Critics have interpreted her photographs as containing her own trauma.53 And yet, no one can say with exact specificity what Woodman’s particular personal trauma might be, other than the eventuation of her act of committing suicide. Needless to say, she had not yet completed that act at the time she made her photographs: it was not a foregone conclusion to the images. To read Woodman’s images as messages of a personal history of trauma is to miss what photography can do. Woodman might have had a personally traumatic history; it is certainly possible that she did. And yet that does not matter to her photographs. Instead, their quality of what Barthes calls “thus-goneness” carries the ontological curve of the hollowing spatial real. Hollowness and lightness are the codes by which one might read both the images from Woodman’s photographs in an abandoned house and her Angels.

In the Angels, and related On Being an Angel, photographs, the body of the girl (who is Woodman) depicts a quality of near disembodiment, with the flourish at the edges of the body as detritus. If Prosser posits the unbearable loss of Barthes’s mother as the engine of Barthes’s need for photography to provide the path of death that words cannot provide, then Woodman creates images that provide the path of nullity for reasons that remain powerfully latent in the images. Instead of offering personal confession, the images are deeply informed by the privative code of the photographic as such. As Sloan Rankin suggests in her commentaries on Woodman’s history, when Woodman was making the photographs on which her reputation now rests, she was not depressed but healthy and even joyous.54 The slant and precarious beauty of the images expresses this delicate space of joy and recognizes the emptiness of the physical and temporal world not as a pathological state but as an enlightened state. Woodman was not a student of Zen in the sense of studying Buddhism, but her work exemplifies a careful and serious encounter with the ephemeral contours of embodiment, an encounter that Woodman repeatedly stages in photographs that repeat and exhaust embodiment.

In that Woodman’s reception history had a decidedly gendered slant, her work’s meditative intellectual energy has been somewhat overlooked, in favor of readings that contend with an assumption that some form of gendered pathology inspired her work.55 There are sharp and painful explorations of gender in her work – not just a nightmare of the feminine but also the illusion of objects in time and space is exposed in the delicate and frightening imagery of Woodman’s photographs. Importantly, Woodman titled photographs Space and Space2 (Providence, Rhode Island, 1975–1978), thus indicating that the images interact with space itself and render space in the flat plane of the photograph (Figure 5.11).

In House #3 (Figure 5.10), Woodman looks as if she had just crashed through the window. The fractured lines of light seem to emanate from the shoulders of the figure of the girl crouched beneath the windowsill. The blurred figure suggests not a ghostly figure but more directly a figure without weight, or one whose weight is of a different quality and force than we usually accord with the human body. The room seems to sway with a kind of wind, as if the figure of the girl, falling in, shaped the room into a hollow. Each echo of this hollow is articulated and embellished by the photograph’s implicit gestures of counter-comparison: the damaged wall, the fracture line of the wall, the overly bright (overexposed) light of the trees, the trees as fracture lines, the girl both overexposed and blurred (because of a long exposure time during which Woodman moved), and the floor covered with detritus as if the building were emptying itself. This ascesis is Woodman’s enlightenment, her coming to terms with the illusory nature of the physical world by photographing its limits, photographing the places where home is not, in fact, home and cannot protect or sustain us. Similarly, Woodman’s Angels (Rome, Italy, 1977) questions the boundary of flesh and illusion and of the unseen seen. In the image from an abandoned factory in Rome, Woodman seems to be trying to levitate, but the fey joke of the image is the impossibility of flight for the body in gravity. And yet this picture also abounds with the pun of the illusion of materiality, the present absence of the body as it attempts, comically, to transcend gravity to gain control of its own illusory field. The place where it happens is marked by the photograph as a wound of time. The nubile body half-stripped tries to jump out of its skin, out of its social position, or, more straightforwardly, out of its materiality and its illusory secured place in space and time.

The photograph as illusion that leads to truth, the way of the dead, is particularly relevant to Woodman’s Angels. She creates the most obvious and banal illusion, the image of the angel in a postlapsarian space, and infuses it with awareness of its falsity that becomes exemplification of its truth. The camera opens the path of the dead through its proscenium function, its ability to create a stage. The stage she uses is carefully set and also vacuous, inhabited by a problematic shift of gravity. In an image from the Angels, the gravity of partial nudity marks the angelic body that tries to lift itself above earth in a partial escape. The action is echoed by the clumsy wing-like sheets draped above the jumping figure, toward which the figure gestures. The young girl’s partial nudity, her thin arms, and her long hair that attempt to reach the sky signify in graphic detail the impossibility of flight, but the photograph as the path of the dead signifies its own domain here, as Woodman stages the facing of the immaterial through the material and stages the invisible through the visible. The angle of the shot forces us to look up through the impossibility of her path, through the narrow gauge of light that is the impossible domain of her trajectory. The photograph becomes the way of the dead not because Woodman has a death wish but because she is true to the medium of photography. She is true to photog- raphy’s capacity not to stop time but to show the fractionary gait of time, the mortal divisions of depth that imbricate the body in time that is almost light.

Figure 5.14 Francesca Woodman, From Polka Dots, Providence, Rhode Island, 1976,gelatin silver print, 51⁄8 × 51⁄8 in. Courtesy George and Betty Woodman


Polka dot oneiric

The camera-produced image, the photograph, may not invite or even permit the viewer’s act of imagination, argues Jean Baudrillard: the hyperreal instead stays above the mortal and dreaming world, a kind of final, fatal Platonic form that forces out the negotiations of thought.56 Here Baudrillard extends, perhaps, Theodor Adorno’s thesis that diabolical popular culture actively deprives the proletariat of the space of dreams, imagination, and aesthetic force.57 Woodman’s series of near-self-portraits oscillate between popular culture – a cult following of a sort – and fine art – they have been displayed at the Tate Modern in London, the Guggenheim Museum in San Francisco and in New York City, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Most attempts to explain the power of her images come up short – we venerate the cult of the dead girl, or we see her links to surrealism, and maybe her inchoate feminism, but cannot explain why any of that matters. And yet, I think another way to read the power of Woodman’s photographs – perhaps an eccentric reading but one not antithetical to my earlier readings of her work as contending with the Kantian sublime – is by tracing the force of the oneiric as it pulses through the images’ striking constellations of the nude female body, damaged architecture, and frames of violence implicit and obscure.58 The shapes of things as they emerge in understanding rather than in fact form the visual game of some of Woodman’s images.

Consider the photograph Polka Dots (Figure 5.14), one of the two images chosen for the poster of the popular culture film The Woodmans.59 The image from Polka Dots pulls the eye to multiple fractionary darknesses in the frame: the polka dots, the damaged walls pitted with dark marks and gaps, the girl’s eyes, and most saliently the girl’s body, which is shown as a shadow beneath and within her partly opened dress. As if she were showing a wound, or the way the body is a site of wounding, and as if she were her own doubting Thomas, Woodman places – and invites the viewer to place – a hand in the wound of the open dress. This wound is the weighted gape manifest not as the female body but rather as the mortal body overwritten by gendered codes of fragility. The girl in the picture looks not only vulnerable but also terrifying, as if crouched to take flight, her crouched form echoing the large black spot on the wall above her, with its wing-like irregularities. The image invites us deeper inward, even as the form – the photograph – is the essence of surface, the definitive superficial. As Baudrillard argues, the photograph is a realm without depth, or as Woodman put it, the photographic image is flattened to fit paper. This play on the premise of depth in the visual scape of superficiality arrests the image and traps it in its own performance. This entrapment is much as we experience dreams as a concatenation of images and symbols that are so com- pressed, or pressed together, as to impress us with a sense of the impossibility of resolving them into translatable meaning. This tractive quality of resisting translation makes some of Woodman’s photographs almost inexplicably powerful. That is, given her social place – a privileged child whose subject matter can superficially appear to be meditation on the end or edge of childhood’s privilege – we might not expect the images to carry such heft. But they do carry a disturbing and penetrating force: training a gaze looking always into rooms whose inaccessibility manifests as cognate with the limits of language, Woodman’s photographs force their claim to inhabit and sustain an untranslatable visual realm.

But are Woodman’s photographic images evil demons in the Baudrillardian sense? Woodman’s photographs do not negate the imaginary; rather, they propel the imaginary so far forward as to compel our acceptance of the blank space around the photograph, that is, compel us to reach and see the end of the photograph, what Barthes calls its blind field.60 In the same way that Agamben shows that the poem is always about its own ending, so also Woodman’s most accomplished photographs tell us to look away.61

In the Polka Dots (Figure 5.14) photograph, Woodman’s thumb is in her mouth, partly a play on infantile regression but also a literal play on words: the thumb sup- pressing speech forces us to look to the open dress, with its wound-like turn of flesh. Language moves from words to code, here, from the words the thumb sup- presses in the mouth to the code of geometrically regressive interiority by which the image stakes its claim. This interiority is not manifestly sexual but rather onto- logical, an interiority of the wound of the eye, the wound of the embodied gaze. The palpable metaphor for the eye here is the polka dots themselves.

The wound that is the eye, the image tells us, grants and also is risked by the force of sight, the room we do not choose to inhabit is the room we most clearly see. As in dreams, we inhabit not the spaces of the demonic but spaces of force when we look at Woodman’s more successful images. Whereas one could interpret this “eye” along Georges Bataille’s sexualized terms, the challenge in reading Wood- man’s photography is that to see the force of the images is to divest oneself of the pathologizing gaze of looking at Woodman as the troubled teen, a bad or crazed girl.62 It is harder but more tallied to the images to see in Woodman’s best photo- graphs the tension of the forms’ harness of mortal time and fate as space, the body as space in space, an easeless and terrifying emergence.

Notes

  1. See Olga M.Viso, Ana Mendieta: Earth Body (Berlin: Hatje Cantz, 2004) and Olga M.Viso, Unseen Mendieta:The Unpublished Works of Ana Mendieta (London: Prestel, 2008); see also Claire Raymond, Francesca Woodman and the Kantian Sublime (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2010).
  2. See Elisabeth Bronfen, Over Her Dead Body: Death, Femininity, and the Aesthetic (Manches- ter, UK: Manchester University Press, 1992); see also Claire Raymond, The Posthumous Voice in Women’s Writing (Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2006) and Debra Ferrday, “A Waif ’s Progress: Kate Moss and the Feminine Uncanny,” Feminist Media Studies 14, no. 5 (2014): 791–805.
  3. Jane Simon,“An Intimate Mode of Looking: Francesca Woodman’s Photographs,” Emo- tion, Space and Society 3, no. 1 (2010): 28–35.
  4. Carolee Schneeman, “Regarding Ana Mendieta,” Women and Performance: A Journal of Feminist Theory 21, no. 2 (July 2011): 183–90.
  5. Judy Chicago’s Menstruation Bathroom in the performance and exhibition Womanhouse (1972) and her better-known work The Dinner Party (1979) illustrate a rather direct and graphic invocation of the female body, as was popular in the era’s feminist art practices.
  6. The photographs that speak to the visual concept of the angelic include On Being an Angel (1976), From Angel series (1977), From a series on Angels (1977), and Angels (1977– 78). See Del Valle-Cordero, “Ana Mendieta: Performance in the Way of the Primitive,” Arte Individua y Sociedad 26, no. 1 (2014): 67–82; see also Anca Cristofovici,“Performing Corpo-Realities,” Consciousness, Literature and the Arts 19 ( January 2009): 157–91.
  7. By using the term “haunting,” I do not mean that Mendieta and Woodman invoke the spectral, the shadowy, the insubstantial; there are important differences between haunt- ing, which implies power and the return of the oppressed, and spectrality, which suggests ethereality. On this argument, see Avery Gordon, Ghostly Matters (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1999). That said, many scholars who write on Wood- man describe her as a ghost: see Prema Purigali Prabhakar,“Invoking the Spectral Body: A Study of Potential Corporealities in the Work of Marina Abramovic and Francesca Woodman,” Excursions 1, no. 1 (2010): 91–101; and see also Katharine Conley, Surrealist Ghostliness (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2013).
  8. Clara Escoda Agusti, “‘I Carve Myself into My Hands: The Body Experienced from Within in Ana Mendieta’s Work and Migdalia Cruz’s ‘Miriam Flowers,’” Hispanic Review 75, no. 3 (Summer 2007): 289–311.
  9. Any consideration of Ana Mendieta’s work should begin with Olga M.Viso’s incompa- rable studies of the artist. Please see Viso, Ana Mendieta: Earth Body.
  10. See Viso, Unseen Mendieta.
  11. Claire Raymond, “Roland Barthes, Ana Mendieta, and the Orphaned Image,” The Con- versant: Interview Projects, Talk Poetry, Embodied Inquiry, September, 2014, http://theconver sant.org/?p=7854.
  12. Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography (New York: Macmillan, 1981), 6.
  13. Before her death, Mendieta received the Prix de Rome and was a respected artist. See Joyce Wadler, “A Death in Art,” New York, December 16, 1985, 38.
  14. Cuban American artist Coco Fusco included Ana Mendieta in her brilliant performance installation BetterYetWhen Dead at the Festival Internacional de Arte de Medellin in Colombia in 1997, which commented on Mendieta’s ascension in the art world after her death.
  15. Jane Blocker, Where Is Ana Mendieta? (Durham, NC: Duke University Press 1999).
  16. 16 Ibid., 52–53.
  17. Silueta Series, performance photographed in a series of 35 mm color slides, 1976.
  18. Stephanie Rosenthal, Adrian Heathfield, and Julia Bryan-Wilson, Ana Mendieta: Traces (London: Hayward Publishing, 2013).
  19. Commenting on her own work, Mendieta stated: “I have been carrying out a dialogue between the landscape and the female body I believe this has been a direct result of my having been torn from [Cuba]. My art is the way I re-establish the bonds that unite me to the universe. It is a return to the maternal source. Through my earth/body sculptures I become one with the earth. I become an extension of nature and nature becomes an extension of my body. This obsessive act of reasserting my ties with the earth is really the reactivation of primaeval beliefs  [in] an omnipresent female force, the after-image of being encompassed within the womb.” See Petra Barreras del Rio and John Perreault, Ana Mendieta: A Retrospective (New York: New Museum of Contempo- rary Art, 1988), 10.
  20. Although Mendieta made a hundred silhouettes, she took thousands of slides archiving them. See Susan Best,“The Serial Spaces of Ana Mendieta,” Art History 30, no. 1 (Febru- ary 2007): 57–82.
  21. Ann Gabhart, ed., Francesca Woodman: Photographic Work (Wellesley, MA:Wellesley College Museum/Hunter College Art Gallery, 1989).
  22. Hervé Chandès, ed., Francesca Woodman (Zurich: Scalo, 1998).
  23. Chris Townsend, Francesca Woodman (London: Phaidon, 2006).
  24. Claire Raymond, Francesca Woodman and the Kantian Sublime (Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2010).
  25. Corey Keller, Julia Bryan-Wilson, and Jennifer Blessing, Francesca Woodman (San Fran- cisco, CA: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 2013).
  26. Woodman also exhibited at the Sammlung Verbund Gallery, in 2014. See Betsey Berne, Gabriele Schor, and Elisabeth Bronfen, eds., Francesca Woodman:Works from the Sammlung Verbund (Kologne:Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther Koenig and New York, New York: Distributed Arts Publishers, 2014).
  27. Carol Armstrong, “Francesca Woodman: A Ghost in the House,” in Women Artists at the Millennium, ed. Catherine de Zegher and Carol Armstrong (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2006), 351.
  28. Barthes, Camera Lucida, 93–4.
  29. On Woodman’s Blueprint for a Temple and other diazotypes, see Claire Raymond, Francesca Woodman’s Dark Gaze (London: Routledge, 2016); see also Harriet Riches, “Projecting Touch: Francesca Woodman’s Late ‘Blueprints,’” Photographies 5, no. 2 (2012): 135–57.
  30. Butler, Gender Trouble (London: Routledge, 1990) 129–49.
  31. Townsend, Francesca Woodman.
  32. Ibid.
  33. Elisabeth Bronfen, “Leaving an Imprint: Francesca Woodman’s Photographic Tableaux Vivants,” in Francesca Woodman:Works from the Sammlung Verbund, ed. Betsey Berne, Gabri- ele Schor, and Elisabeth Bronfen (Kologne, Germany:Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther Koenig and New York: Distributed Arts Publishers, 2014), 11–30.
  34. Meaghan Thurston,“‘At Home in Dust’: Francesca Woodman’s House Series, Revisited,” FORUM: University of Edinburgh Postgraduate Journal of Culture and the Arts 11 (Autumn 2010): 2–13.
  35. Raymond, Woodman and the Kantian Sublime.
  36. Barthes, Camera Lucida15.
  37. Ibid., 74.
  38. Sloane Rankin, “Peach Mumble – Ideas Cooking,” in Francesca Woodman, ed. Hervé Chandès (Zurich: Scalo, 1998): 34–35.
  39. Barthes, Camera Lucida, 31.
  40. Blocker, Where Is Ana Mendieta?
  41. Woodman’s spoken opinion on feminism was ambivalent, and this ambiguity is vis- ible in her works. See Berne, Schor, and Bronfen, Francesca Woodman. See also Elisabete Lopes, “Francesca Woodman’s Journey into the Gothic Wonderland,” in Women and the Arts: Dialogues in Female Creativity, ed. Diana V. Almeida (Bern, Switzerland: Peter Lang, 2013), 71–84. See also Peggy Phelan, “Francesca Woodman’s Photography: Death and the Image One More Time,” Signs: A Journal of Women in Culture and Society 27, no. 4 (Summer 2002): 979–1004; and see also, Harriet Riches,“A Disappearing Act: Francesca Woodman’s Portrait of a Reputations,” Oxford Art Journal 27, no. 1 (2004): 95–113.
  42. Whether Andre killed Mendieta or whether she accidentally fell during an argument is a question that only Andre can answer. He was twice tried, and twice acquitted, of her murder. See Vincent Patrick,“A Death in the Art World,” New York Times, June 10, 1990.
  43. Mendieta photographed all of the Silueta Series images in which she did not appear, which means that she was the photographer for almost the whole series. Other people photographed the performance works in which she did physically appear. For this reason, I limit myself to discussing her Silueta Series.
  44. Armstrong, “Francesca Woodman: A Ghost in the House”; see also Conley, Surrealist Ghostliness.
  45. See Johanna Demetrakas’s documentary film Womanhouse, 1974, www.wmm.com/film catalog/pages/c324.shtml. See also http://womanhouse.net.
  46. Roland Barthes, Mythologies, trans. Annette Lavers (New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1972).
  47. Barthes, Camera Lucida, 79.
  48. Jacques Derrida, Specters of Marx (London: Routledge, 2006), 132.
  49. Woodman created the abandoned house images in Providence, Rhode Island, while a student at RISD, photographing in abandoned spaces, implicitly those buildings ignored by the government. Providence was later the scene of one of the largest class-action lawsuits for lead poisoning of young children in substandard housing. See Jenna Ber- man,“Rhode Island’s Childhood Lead Poisoning Crisis Remains Painted Thickly on the Wall after State v. Lead Industries Association,” Villanova Environmental Law Journal 20, no. 2 (2009): 217.
  50. Avery Gordon describes ways that the social figure of the ghost encodes her own process of being haunted by cultural terms of violence and silencing. See Gordon, Ghostly Mat- ters: Haunting and the Sociological Imagination (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1999), 140–1.
  51. I developed the next two sections of this chapter, “Francesca Woodman’s Zen” and “Polka Dot Oneiric,” from blog posts that originally appeared on my website, www. claireraymond.org.
  52. Jay Prosser, “Buddha Barthes: What Barthes Saw in Photography (That He Didn’t in Literature),” in Photography Degree Zero: Reflections on Roland Barthes’s Camera Lucida, ed. Geoffrey Batchen (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2009), 91–105.
  53. While there is significant nuance in the way that different theorists approach and inter- pret the question of Francesca Woodman’s state of mental health – and I regret very much that there is not the space in this chapter to offer detailed readings and interpreta- tions of these various theorists, all very valuable in what they bring to discussion of her work – my point is simply that the very fact of Woodman’s mental health being empha- sized in scholarship arguably can have the effect of pulling attention away from the pho- tographic work. See Phelan, “Francesca Woodman’s Photography: Death and the Image One More Time”; Adele Tutter, “Metamorphosis and the Aesthetics of Loss: II. Lady of the Woods – the Transformative Lens of Francesca Woodman,” International Journal of Psychoanalysis 92, no. 6 (December 2011): 1517–39; see also Anna C. Chave,“Normal Ills: On Embodiment,Victimization and the Origins of Feminist Art,” in Trauma and Visuality in Modernity, ed. Lisa Saltzman and Eric Rosenberg (Hanover, NH: Dartmouth College Press, 2006), 138.
  54. Scott Willis, The Woodmans, C. Scott Films, 2011.
  55. Phelan, “Francesca Woodman’s Photography: Death and the Image One More Time.” See also Jui Ch’i Lui, “Woodman’s Self Images: Transforming Bodies in the Space of Femininity,” Woman’s Art Journal 25 (Spring–Summer 2004): 26–31; Tutter, “Metamor- phosis and the Aesthetics of Loss: II”; Amy Sherlock, “Multiple Exposures: Identity and Alterity in the ‘Self-Portraits’ of Francesca Woodman,” Paragraph 36, no. 3 (Novem- ber 2013): 376–91.
  56. Jean Baudrillard, Simulations and Simulacra, trans. Sheila Glaser (Ann Arbor, MI: Michigan University Press, 1994).
  57. Theodor Adorno,“The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception,” in Dialectic of Enlightenment, ed. Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno (Redwood City, CA: Stan- ford University Press, 2002): 94–137.
  58. Raymond, Francesca Woodman and the Kantian Sublime.
  59. Willis, The Woodmans.
  60. Barthes, Camera Lucida, 57.
  61. Giorgio Agamben, The End of the Poem: Studies in Poetics (Redwood City, CA: Stanford University Press, 1999).
  62. Georges Bataille, Story of the Eye, trans. Joachim Neugroschal (London: Penguin Modern Classics, 2001).

Women Photographers and Feminist Aesthetics

Investigation of the photography of Ana Mendieta and Francesca Woodman.

Words by

Claire Raymond

Fig 5.10 © Francesca Woodman, House #3, Providence, Rhode Island, 1976,23⁄8 ×67⁄16 in. Courtesy George and Betty Woodman.

The book Women Photographers and Feminist Aesthetics by Claire Raymond makes the case for a feminist aesthetics in photography by analysing key works of twenty-two women photographers, including cis- and trans-woman photographers. Claire Raymond provides close readings of key photographs spanning the history of photography, from nineteenth-century Europe to twenty-first century Africa and Asia. She offers original interpretations of well-known photographers such as Diane Arbus, Sally Mann, and Carrie Mae Weems, analysing their work in relation to gender, class, and race. The book also pays close attention to the way in which indigenous North Americans have been represented through photography and the ways in which contemporary Native American women photographers respond to this history. In this part she investigates the photography of Ana Mendieta and Francesca Woodman.

This is a reprint of the Chapter 5 Afterimages Ana Mendieta and Francesca Woodman by Claire Raymond, with the permission of the author.

Photographer Francesca Woodman and photographer and earthworks and body artist Ana Mendieta share the unhappy fate of being artists who did not get the chance to develop their work over the course of a long life; Woodman died at 22 and Mendieta at 36. And yet, Mendieta’s photographic recording of her earthworks and body performances shapes a multimedia oeuvre of great significance, while Francesca Woodman’s enigmatic photographs constitute one of the most fascinating bodies of photographic work produced in the later twentieth century. 1The question of whether the early deaths of these artists set the stage for interest in their art after their deaths is complicated. The cultural allure of the woman who dies while young is deeply entrenched in the Western aesthetic, glamorized in the mid-nineteenth century and manifested in the late-twentieth-century popular- ity of the ultrathin, brink-of-death waif look.2 In a troubling way, Mendieta and Woodman seem to gain artistic stature by dying horrible and early deaths, and yet these artists’ photographic works also predict, exploit, and subvert our culture’s desire for the sacrificial figure of the deathly, beautiful woman. For Woodman and Mendieta do not directly owe their current reputations as artists to their scandalous deaths. Instead, their art stages, confronts, rebuts, and overturns the valorization of the deathly, passive feminine, even as the terms of this cultural feminine haunt the reception of their work.

Born 10 years apart, Ana Mendieta (1948–1985) and Francesca Woodman (1958–1981) participated in very different ways in the feminist art of the 1970s. In the late 1970s, Mendieta was active in the A.I.R. gallery, an all-woman feminist collective in Manhattan. Her photographed earthworks and body works present a fusion of cultural feminist bodily representation with broader sculptural interest in earthworks. During this time, Woodman was a student at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) who expressed the feminist art zeitgeist by creating a large number of photographs of herself nude.3 Both Mendieta and Woodman gesture    obliquely but unmistakably to feminist performance art of the 1970s – art that laid claim to and celebrated woman’s embodied experience.4 Carolee Schneeman, Judy Chicago, and Miriam Schapiro emphasized in their work aspects of female embodi- ment that had hitherto been considered taboo, improper for fine art.5 Mendieta and Woodman, then, are of the same era in American art even as their personal back- grounds are very different. Both focus a significant portion of their work on tracing, representing, and photographing the female body. Mendieta creates the temporally expansive Silueta Series, and Woodman creates an oeuvre of small black-and-white photographs, including the House, Space, Space2, and Angels series, several notable diazotypes, and her much larger masterwork, Blueprint for a Temple.6

Although Mendieta and Woodman emerge from the body-oriented feminist art movement of the 1970s, they diverge from artists such as Carolee Schneeman, Mary Beth Edelson and Hannah Wilke by creating works that formally (that is, through a skewing of form) trouble and swerve from the represented presence of the female body. They show that body as trace, echo, and blur, and they predict the feminism of the late twentieth century in that their depictions of the female body show its elusion. Mendieta’s and Woodman’s photographs, though, push far beyond the truisms of deconstructivist feminism. They engage the female body as a template for exploring the mark of time, mortality, citizenship, and ontology – that is, the meaning of being.They explore the embodiment of fate – gender as fate – in their photographic works. By invoking the term fate, I do not mean that Mendieta and Woodman were passive and helpless in their art. I mean that their art predicts and shows the limitations of poststructuralist feminist theory that postulates gender as a series of performative gestures. Pushing beyond notions of the performative, the two artists show gender as a form of haunting, a fate that catches or marks the subject despite and even against her own choices and will.7 Their art does not advocate acceptance of this fate. Indeed, it is exactly in the depth and the power with which they show gender as fate that inheres their refusal of its terms. Fate is the circumstance that catches the subject unprepared; gender, as explored visually in Wood- man’s and Mendieta’s work, surfaces as a force that catches the subject unprepared. Their work visually iterates the struggle and force of returning to substance, as the self is caught in the matrix of materiality. In visually evoking the tactile, haptic, and textural, their art stages extraordinary resistance to superficial theories of gender as performance and also to the bitterly entrenched ways that a woman becomes a woman because of how she is culturally seen. The violence of their work breaks apart received ways of seeing and opens new opportunities to comprehend not only gender but also exile, earth, space, mortality, and time.

Fig. 5.1 Ana Mendieta, Untitled: Silueta Series, 1976, earth/bodywork, Mexico, 35mm color slides. © The Estate of Ana Mendieta Collection, L.L.C., Courtesy Galerie Lelong, New York.

Ana Mendieta’s Invisible Photographs

Ana Mendieta was active until the mid-1980s.8 I write about her photographic works because photographs and a not-insignificant collection of films are what is principally left of her oeuvre. That said, Mendieta is generally regarded as an earthworks and body artist.9 Mendieta’s career indeed shows an uncanny aspect of photography, its ability to consume and transpose different art forms. She produced hundreds of photographs, mainly slides, documenting and recording her earthworks performances, and I will focus on the ones from her Silueta Series.10 While Mendieta was alive and producing her art, she considered her photographs to be documents of her earthworks and body works; even so, I suggest that her photographs are primary artistic legacy.11 Roland Barthes’s argument that we perceive the image rather than the photograph – “it is not it that we see” – is especially true of Ana Mendieta’s body of work.12 She continues to be widely interpreted as an earth- works and body artist even as her fame has ascended exponentially after her death, a fame that largely rests on the photographic images she created. A respected artist before her death, Mendieta yet struggled for major gallery and museum representation.13 After her death, her photographs and other works are represented by the prestigious Galerie LeLong, and her work has been displayed in New York City’s Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and London’s Southbank Centre. I mention these facts not to suggest that having one’s work shown in well-regarded galleries and museums has aesthetic meaning in itself – it does not – but instead to make clear that Mendieta’s reputation as an artist has grown significantly stronger in the decades after her death.14 Since she is no longer alive to perform earthworks and body works, one must conclude that her ascent in reputation is based in part on the photographs that document her earthworks and body works. Many of these were slides, created to be shown with a projector. The materiality of photographic slides aligns with Mendieta’s somewhat uncanny oeuvre: slides are too tiny to view accurately with the naked eye, but when projected the image will fill a wall as a kind of phantasmagoric monument. On this wall, it has an immaterial quality, entirely projected light and image. Yet it also has the force of a large work, filling the wall. Mendieta seems to have chosen slides for their convenience as documentation of her earthworks, but it is worth considering how the uncanny materiality of slides supports the haunting discourse of her oeuvre, its thematics of exile and trace, presence in absence.

Mendieta was born in Cuba into a wealthy and politically powerful family that fell from favor when Castro came to power. In an effort to save their children, her parents sent Ana, then age 12, and her elder sister, Raquelin, to the United States through Operation Peter Pan, and they entered foster care in Iowa.15 The state proved a cruel place for Mendieta, because it was rife with racism. She later remembered being called the “little whore” by her Iowa classmates, simply because of the color of her skin.16 At the University of Iowa, Mendieta enrolled in the master of arts program, where she met Hans Breder, a teacher who became her lover. Traveling with Breder to Mexico, Mendieta began to create her numerically massive Silueta Series in the early 1970s. While Breder was photographing Mendieta nude at La Ventosa, Mendieta was creating some of the most striking images in this series.

The Silueta images that Mendieta created at Salina Cruz (1976) are among the most powerful in the larger series of images that she called Siluetas (Figures 5.1–5.9).17

Focusing my discussion on this very small subset of images drawn from the enormous Silueta Series, I choose images that stand out as exemplary. And yet, to begin to grasp Mendieta’s work, one must view as many of the Siluetas as possible. Only such viewing of this massive series that Mendieta continued to develop until her death reveals the obsessive force with which Mendieta approached and worked through the problem of how to represent, in photographs, the pain of exile. The Silueta Series is a work that, in the years when she was creating it, Mendieta claimed would have no end. The images photographed at Salina Cruz show the outline of a woman’s body that Mendieta traced in the sand near the boundary of the ocean. Along the traced outline, she has placed red pigment. As the ocean tide rises, it progressively sweeps the figure into the water (Figures 5.1–5.9). Mendieta shot the photographs low and at close frame so that nothing could be seen apart from the essential elements of the earthworks performance: the sand, the ocean, the outline of the woman’s form, and the red tinge. The close frame gives a sense of intimacy and sparseness to the image. There are no people, just a feminine outline that is eroded by the waves. There is no sky, just water, sand, and red. The sense of desolation is palpable.

Fig 5.2 Ana Mendieta, Untitled: Silueta Series, 1976, earth/bodywork, Mexico, 35mm color slides. © The Estate of Ana Mendieta Collection, L.L.C., Courtesy Galerie Lelong, New York.
Fig. 5.4 Ana Mendieta, Untitled: Silueta Series, 1976, earth/bodywork, Mexico, 35mm color slides. © The Estate of Ana Mendieta Collection, L.L.C., Courtesy Galerie Lelong, New York.

But to say that Mendieta is creating images of disappearance is a false reading. Instead, she is marking the earth with the female body’s outline and the red pigment. The way the ocean slowly erodes the contours of this mark is expressed photographically as a series: Mendieta photographs the erosion of the outline she has made. The photographs then become a more permanent mark and in this sense double the Silueta, thus standing as a record of the marks Mendieta has made on the earth. Never the story of disappearance, her photographs documenting earthworks and body performance insist on the artist’s capacity to make her mark even as the images profoundly evoke the sense of personal anguish that comes with exile and loss of one’s homeland.

The elements of the color red and the ocean suggest Santería, an Afro-Caribbean religion that incorporates elements of Roman Catholicism. Mendieta was well versed in Santería, although she was raised Roman Catholic.18 In the Salina Cruz series of Silueta, Mendieta conjures Yemaya, the mother-goddess who lives in the ocean, whereas the red set by the feminine outline suggests blood. The images, though, supersede and can be read without knowledge of Santería. They show a profound dispossession and express the condition of exile and loss: a small feminine outline eroded and cast adrift into the ocean. But the idea that Mendieta is simply staging feminine erasure in the Silueta Series does not begin to limn how instead the images show dissolution and return: what goes into the ocean does not disappear but becomes part of the ocean, circling with the currents and insistently returning to shore. The back-and-forth motion of the waves skew temporal readings of the photographs so that there is no exact moment at which the mark of the outline is effaced but rather several scenes of formal interaction between the ocean and the woman’s outline, as gradually the ocean and the outline merge.

Mendieta traces her personal and political experience of exile in these images by elegantly limned symbolic form. The rise of her reputation as an artist in the twenty-first century rests on the unique power of her photographic work to simultaneously evoke the experience of exile, orphanhood, and the claiming of place or the making of one’s mark no matter how fate conspires to cause one’s silence. Her Silueta photographs explore with power and persistence the condition of exile and loss and the longing for return to a homeland that Mendieta uses as a metaphor for womb-like and maternal.19 Their power is to set a claim on a place, no matter how dispossessed one is.20

The dissolution of the figure of the feminine that Mendieta repeatedly stages in her haunting Silueta photographs is not a personal confession of her desire to not exist. Instead, the Siluetas call the viewer to contend with her own lost places and her own claim on place, especially her claim on spaces from which she has been cast out. Mendieta stamps the earth with her Silueta earthworks, and the voluminous body of photographs that document her Silueta Series stands as one of the most important interventions in feminist art of the late twentieth century. I say this because Mendieta’s photographic work contends with issues of exile and the lost condition of the human in ways that go beneath and beyond the obsession with costumery and performativity made popular in the late twentieth century by Judith Butler and Cindy Sherman. In the twenty-first century, the problem of displaced persons, exiles, and refugees is epidemic. Mendieta’s oeuvre, and especially her photography, addresses this problem of exile. Mendieta is an important photographer because the fearless and brilliant works that she created show the orphanhood of existence – the state of exile – which is more and more common in our twenty- first-century world. Her work evokes the necessity of claiming one’s place even in this fragile and shifting terrain. This ability of Mendieta’s Silueta photographs to evoke the state of the exile and to shape a visceral facing of it makes her work of increasing importance and concern in the twenty-first century.

Fig 5.10 © Francesca Woodman, House #3, Providence, Rhode Island, 1976,23⁄8 ×67⁄16 in. Courtesy George and Betty Woodman. 


Francesca Woodman’s House

Born in Boulder, Colorado, in 1958, Francesca Woodman was something of a photography prodigy. She began taking striking and memorable photographs as a young teen. By the time she was in her late teens and early twenties, she was already producing a body of work that ultimately would place her among the more interesting, evocative, and debated photographers of the late twentieth century. Although Woodman created her photographs from the early 1970s until her death by suicide in 1981, her reputation as a photographer is largely a twenty- first-century phenomenon. Some six years after her death, Woodman’s mother, the ceramic artist Betty Woodman, engineered a small exhibition of Francesca Wood- man photographs at Wellesley College Museum in Wellesley, Massachusetts. The exhibit featured catalog essays by prominent feminist art historians, notably including Abigail Solomon-Godeau, whose essay “Just Like a Woman” is a classic feminist analysis of Woodman’s work.21 In 1998, Fondation Cartier mounted an exhibit in Paris, and Scalo Publishers brought out an important book of Woodman’s photo- graphs, featuring essays by the likes of philosopher Philippe Sollers.22 In 2004, the Marian Goodman Gallery in New York City featured Woodman’s work, and the photographer’s reputation began to gather steam. In 2006, Phaidon Press brought out a splendid collection of her photographs.23 In 2010, the first full-length mono- graph on Woodman’s work appeared.24 In 2011 and 2012, her work was shown at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Guggenheim Museum in NewYork City and at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.25 Thirty years after her death, the photography prodigy had arrived.26

But this posthumous reputation created Francesca Woodman as a kind of cult phenomenon, a photographer adored by some outside of the art world and debated or even disparaged within it. Art historian Carol Armstrong writes that a male col- league responded dismissively to her article on Francesca Woodman by questioning her attention to the achievement of an adolescent: opines Armstrong, “I think he may have meant an adolescent girl’s achievement.”27

Fig 5.11 © Francesca Woodman, From Space2, Providence, Rhode Island, 1976, gelatin silverprint, 23⁄8 × 67⁄16 in. Courtesy George and Betty Woodman.

Woodman’s status as a very young woman when she created her photographic oeuvre erects a barrier to her work being taken seriously. Despite the power of her photographs and despite the fact that major museums have exhibited and purchased her work, art historians who write on Woodman are almost always women writing feminist theory. That does not misrepresent Woodman’s photography – her work draws powerfully on themes of gender – but it does reflect the excessive gendering of Woodman’s corpus. She is not a photographer about whom esteemed male art historians seem to care to spend their time studying and writing (David Levi Strauss and Benjamin Buchloh being significant exceptions). Even so, Francesca Woodman attracts a kind of popular adulation that only the Internet age could measure. She is tweeted and blogged about, and digital versions of her photographs circulate widely. Not only is her posthumous fame something that occurred in the twenty-first century, but also the viewing habits of the twenty-first century seem matched to her enigmatic, quixotic work. Each time we look at a Francesca Woodman photograph online, we see an image the artist did not intend to take up space on the gallery or museum wall – unlike the work of many professional photographers. Instead, her work reads like a secret door into a mystery, uncannily appropriate to float randomly up through the flotsam and jetsam of the Internet. The reason Woodman’s work was not intended to fill a gallery wall is that she died before she was invited to have gallery representation. Near the end of her life, Woodman did display the work Blueprint for a Temple in Manhattan’s Alternative Museum.

Her later works in diazotype are large, most notably the Blueprint for a Temple,

which is 15 feet high and originally (when Woodman showed the work shortly before her death) filled two walls of the Alternative Museum, whereas her earlier black and white photographs are quite tiny, 5 inches by 7 inches or smaller. Despite her later turn toward a monumental scale, Woodman’s work has been called diaristic, that is, like diary pictures. But on the contrary, her enigmatic photographs confess nothing personal – thematizing instead time, space, mortality, and  embodiment. Woodman’s photograph My House and her House and Space2 series (1975–1976) present the photograph as a kind of fate, something that seals an event in its ineluctable that-has-been-ness, “a fugitive but certain testimony.”28 These images are not necessarily the most important and substantial of Woodman’s work – her later diazotypes fill this role – but these series represent Woodman’s quintessential work, that by which most audiences, if they know her, recognize her.29 In these photographs, this testimony of gender as fate works at a slant to late-twentieth-century theories of gender as an apparent garment effected by language, discourse, sign.30 In Woodman’s photographs, gender is a sign that, in its very excessiveness, returns and wounds the subject, becoming fate.

Even as the House and Space2 images showcase temporal distortions (Figures 5.10 and 5.11), in these images Woodman’s affinities with the feminist performance art of her era are striking. Her work elides the boundaries between genres, thus coming to rest as photography not so much in its inception as in its reception.31 I do not mean that Woodman did not conceive of herself as a photographer: clearly, she did. But the genius of Woodman’s work is the scene, the symbolic torque. Her power is oneiric and her work has the aura of fate. In this, she deploys the photograph as a sign of fate – never an actual truth but an encoding of image that appears as truth – that which is written for us. The photographs of the House and Space2 series and the image, My House, stage a young woman, Woodman herself, as the double of dilapidated interiors rich with visual rhymes that reveal formal consanguinities between the ruined architectural spaces and the young woman inhabiting them (Figures 5.10, 5.11, and 5.12). As Chris Townsend rightly points out, Woodman diverges from the Pictures Generation, which emphasized pastiche and repetition of stock images and with which she is contemporaneous, in that her photographs visually quote from the history of European art, not commercial images.32 Importantly, I would add, they carry a sense of depth that is an always indicated, never revealed intimacy and expanse. Woodman’s abandoned house images are hauntingly real, even as they were entirely staged.33 Woodman went to abandoned spaces, moved in props, and photographed herself amid very carefully planned and constructed scenes. Meaghan Thurston has elegantly described Woodman’s photographic use of the body in domestic space.34 I have articulated this theme as Woodman’s relationship to architecture, to built space.35 In the House and Space2 photographs, Woodman’s body is the formal symbol that carries present time through the time-as-the-past space of the abandoned house (Figure 5.10 and 5.11). Here, the fate of the gendered subject is invoked through melancholy reflection. Photographs, as Barthes argues, are tied to time, and the eidos of the photograph is time, its passage, and its mortal light.36 Woodman’s photographs exemplify this photographic idea of the passage of time – the body’s vulnerability to time. They achieve this transformation by invoking gender with the young female body becoming in Woodman’s work the eloquent descriptor of fate: what happens no matter how hard we try not to let it happen. Here, I want to emphasize that I do not mean that Woodman takes photo- graphs of her actual fate; rather, I mean that her photographs exemplify that quality in photography that presents the past – any past – as if it were the only possible path. A sense of the inevitable attends Woodman’s images even as they protest that end. In this sense, they are rigorously honest images of gender as a force that often eludes the subject’s attempts to escape its domain. And yet precisely by showing this tight space of gender-as-fate, Woodman protests it and opens for her viewers possibilities of transcendence and transformation that are beyond restrictive codes of the gendered self and of the self as such.

Fig. 5.12 © Francesca Woodman, My House, Providence, Rhode Island, 1976, 53⁄4 ×55⁄8 in. Courtesy George and Betty Woodman.


Domain

With the disembodied and denaturalized fecundity of photography, Francesca Woodman’s series in abandoned houses is pensive in the sense that Barthes describes – the pensive image causes one to think because it cannot be easily read.37 Her black-and-white photographs from this era are typically very small prints; in this sense they seem private and demand concentrated, close-up viewing. For the House and Space2 series, Woodman comes to the abandoned house, that house where no housework has been done for years, and increases its disarray. She peels already peeling wallpaper further from walls, brings scavenged ruined objects into the house, and scatters plaster on the already dirty floors.38 She exaggerates – makes excessive – the melancholy of an abandoned house. Woodman undoes the cover of domesticity in the abandoned spaces she photographs, marking them as her own by performing the opposite of housework. Instead of hiding time’s marks, Woodman exaggerates time’s marks in abandoned spaces wherein time’s marks are already well shown. Having thus prepared the scenes, she takes her photographs. Instead of erasing the marks of time, Woodman causes those marks to pose, to hold still. Not erasing the mark of time as fate, Woodman slows it, stills it. In these two series, she poses the house at its ruinous edge where it will no longer offer safety to inhabitants but instead will show us our fragility, our need for cover, and the limits of that cover (Figures 5.10–5.12). The pose, as Barthes argues, is the essence of the photograph: a photographic image forces the physical and visible world to hold still.39 In her House and Space2 series and in the image My House, Woodman poses as the singular union of house- wife, housekeeper, and vestal daughter, whose insoluble grief, or rage, opens the disarray of the house to sight. More than simply a rebellion against the terms of femininity – although these photographs do act rebelliously – the pose of Woodman, the woman who freezes time rather than removes it, is not so much an anti-housewife as a repudiating claim on the house. Woodman instates a scene of pain at the origin: the ersatz familial house.

Woodman’s poses in the decrepit, abandoned domestic space play on well- established tropes of gender. The hearth, which traditionally suggests the vestal daughter, is central to some of the images. The diaphanous garments of torn paper, the Mary Jane shoes, and the plastic wrap used as clothing (Figures 5.10–5.12) all strike home by conveying concentric circles of gendered inscriptions. Woodman allows the garment of light to pose across her and across the rooms, in uncanny technique, poised between performance and the negation of performance. Her visual domain is the image that constitutes the edge of claim. In the photograph My House and in the House and Space2 series, the formal symbol of the daughter Woodman portrays returns to a house that cannot protect her from fate. Instead, this entirely photographic house can only perform fate.

Gender as fate

Ana Mendieta theorized and conceptualized her work’s relationship to gender, describing her earthworks as an attempt to connect with the womb of the earth,40 but Francesca Woodman did not write about feminism in a theorized way. Although seeming to agree with its tenets, Woodman apparently felt that feminism was not of much practical use.41 For Mendieta, the inscription of gender as fate came to appear overdetermined after her death: it seems that her husband, Carl Andre, may have caused her death.42 Even so, Mendieta’s fidelity to representing the female figure, in her Silueta Series and in several other performance pieces, creates a dialogue around the gendered figure that subverts notions of gender as costume and frames the seriousness (and pain) of gendered fate.43 In Woodman’s work, gender is played through and visually theorized: her art contemplates links among gender, fate, visuality, and photography. The risk of such work is that Woodman deploys this category of fate as an embodied force, a problem to solve visually in photographs that push the nude female figure to the edge. Woodman’s typical refusal to show the face of her photographed subject – many of her photographs are images of Woodman her- self – makes of the female body an iconic rather than a personal mark, not unlike Mendieta’s outlines of the feminine figure in her Siluetas (Figure 5.13). In this image, Woodman poses above the outline of her body traced in flour on the floor (Figure 5.13). In an ingenious combination of wry humor and pathos, she stages the body’s outline and its evanescence, even as she figurally envisions herself, nude but for her Mary Janes, in a chair looking down at what appears to be the mark of her own vanishing. The outline, here, evokes traditional police use of an outline to mark the fallen body of a victim, and yet Woodman’s very young and healthy living body perched above the outline not only visually skews the formal shape of the image but also symbolically alters the work to be not about vanishing or a desire to vanish but rather the intelligence and the will to stand apart – in ecstasy and enlightenment – and see the transience of one’s physical self. Her photographs work against acceptance of the fate of gender even as they mourn the way gender stakes its claim on the subject in advance of the subject’s efforts to reinscribe a self.


Whom do I haunt?

Going to abandoned houses, Francesca Woodman investigates the posture of the revenant. The houses haunt her, and through her photographs of abandoned domestic spaces, Woodman troubles us. Whereas Carol Armstrong argues that Woodman is a ghost in the house of the woman artist, and Katherine Conley locates Woodman as a surrealist ghost, I suggest that Woodman, no ghost, is intent on photographing the house of the visible and the relationship of time to this house.44 She uses her body as a symbol of the risk of both claiming and refusing to inhabit a house if the terms of this house degrade one. As stated by the title of her photograph My House, Woodman does not imagine herself inhabiting someone else’s house, but instead claims her own place: the house is hers. Her house is more expansive and far rougher than that of the polished grande dame.

Woodman’s House and Space2 photographs, however, do have a clear relation- ship to a precursor work of feminist art: Womanhouse.45 Woodman is likely to have been aware of California Institute of the Arts Feminist Art Program’s Womanhouse given the prominence of Judy Chicago and Miriam Shapiro, who spearheaded the performance and exhibition, and given Womanhouse’s near proximity in time to Woodman’s own work. The influence of Womanhouse is fateful in Woodman’s photographs. Like the creators of Womanhouse, Woodman seeks an abandoned house in which to create her work. But if Womanhouse is a kind of public protest art,Woodman takes a turn to the interior in her housework. Through the work of photo- graphing a house, Woodman creates the melancholy, private images of

material fate that is a form of return.

By performing for her own camera in an abandoned house, Woodman points to the damning cultural narrative that merges woman with house, that makes the house an imprimatur – as Barthes would define the word, a myth – of the cultural interpretation that a woman goes into a house to be somehow contained within it, that a woman’s relationship to a house is one of submission, even by dint of being protected, rather than of ownership.46 Instead, Woodman claims the house as her own and accepts the risks of its rough edge. Denying herself a comforting domestic, she reaches past protest to a kind of sublimity that is a rapprochement with self-denial. Beyond the abandoned house photographs, she shows the place of fate also by her use of doubling and the visual rhymes that make up the subtext of many of her photographs. The divided and echoed subject is both on the floor and standing above her double (Figure 5.13), and in other photographs the structural parallels between Woodman’s body and a bird wing, a fish skeleton, a taxidermy fox, and eels are played through in further structural parallels with the architecture that contains the woman’s body. This use of doubling, wherein the house that is falling apart is coded to stand with the woman who inhabits the house, poses photographic fate. The figure of the house’s inhabitant is marked by light, effaced by light, and preserved by light in the photograph’s persistence. She is the double of time: torn wallpaper is her garment, oversaturated with light, and then light is her garment, almost swallowing the figure (Figure 5.10).


Melancholy of photography

Barthes defines the punctum as the place in the photograph that marks the viewer, the place where the photograph establishes itself as part of the viewer’s fate, as it were specific to her.47 The punctum of photography then is its melancholy or, as Barthes writes, its “tyche,” the place where the reality of time touches the viewer. Working along similarly oblique lines, Jacques Derrida asks “Whom do I haunt?” as a constitutive question, going on to posit that those whom “I” haunt are those who are wounded, painfully or pleasurably, by me; I am formed by those whom I haunt.48 Conversely, those who haunt me are my fate. Francesca Woodman’s photographs in an abandoned house invoke her audience because the photographs show Woodman as one who is haunted by the visual terms of gender, implicated in the mortal gaze of the photograph: she is not a ghost in anyone’s house but instead a purveyor of the cultural force – through photographic images – of haunting. Woodman’s images employ and embody the melancholy of fate that is woman’s figural conscription at (and as) the site of this repetition of gender. Woodman’s photographs prick us with the fate of being gendered, released from that fate only if also cast out of the house.

The fatedness of gender is evident also in the way that Woodman’s abandoned house photographs show her staying in the house through the process of its desolation and destruction.49 To paraphrase Philippe Sollers, Francesca Woodman is more risked than anyone, at least in the visual lexicon of her photographs. Woodman’s photographs pose a melancholy effect of gender as repetition of fate, poised not at the boundary but in the boundary: her photographs stage transcendence as risk. Rather than confronting sexist oppression directly in the way of its predecessor Womanhouse, Woodman’s House and Space2 series perform as melancholy photography. They are images that say gender codes will not change in bright unity, but in the severe task of changing form, often in ulterior psychic spaces, and at personal risk. Woodman’s House and Space2 series come after the early 1970s performance space Womanhouse not just in time but in telos (or goal); her photographs aim to express the melancholy recognition that mutatis mutandis (despite changes, the main point stays the same); despite feminism, a woman whose art goes against the grain is a woman at risk.

In these images, Francesca Woodman is haunted by her precursors – the house of the woman artist was already filled with ghosts long before Woodman came on the scene.50 Woodman’s house shows a space where writing, reinscription, will not reach: the photograph as the space of fate cannot be rewritten, the photo- graph cannot be transformed once it is made. In its essence, a photograph cannot be transformed, only manipulated. (Consider photomontage and composite photography, and photoshop, not as transformative of the photographic image itself, however much they may be transformative for works of art.) But for just this reason Woodman’s photographs have the traction that opens to transformation. The uncanny and displaced positions that Woodman creates in her photographs speak to a kind of social violence entailed in a woman’s efforts to create a self, and they shape a haunted space wherein the young woman is engaged in an immense struggle with the house. The fate of the house is photographic image, that is, space swallowed by time. Although one may interpret Woodman’s use of blur in some of the House and Space photographs as importing ghostliness to the images, here blur articulates her struggle with her house – of inheritance, of future, of self-as- artist, and of the always enigmatic otherness of the figural in time (Figure 5.10). For Woodman, blur is necessary for this housework of alterity: she is fighting for her place in space and time, making a rough chrysalis of the abandoned house that she claims as her own.51


Francesca Woodman’s Zen

In Photography Degree Zero, Jay Prosser writes persuasively about the Buddhist strand in Barthes’s Camera Lucida, arguing that here, in his last book, Barthes the semiotician confronts or is forced to come up against the limits of words.52 Prosser emphasizes what he sees as the photograph’s connection to trauma, a connection that Prosser argues is inherent to Barthes’s theory of the photograph as memento mori. This trauma Prosser does not interpret along the lines of contemporary Western trauma theory but instead along the lines of Buddhist notions of the fleeting emptiness of the physical world, the illusion of stability that surrounds those things that occupy time and space.

Francesca Woodman’s images in an abandoned house and her Angels series of images occupy time and space with a visceral code of risk or pain. Critics have interpreted her photographs as containing her own trauma.53 And yet, no one can say with exact specificity what Woodman’s particular personal trauma might be, other than the eventuation of her act of committing suicide. Needless to say, she had not yet completed that act at the time she made her photographs: it was not a foregone conclusion to the images. To read Woodman’s images as messages of a personal history of trauma is to miss what photography can do. Woodman might have had a personally traumatic history; it is certainly possible that she did. And yet that does not matter to her photographs. Instead, their quality of what Barthes calls “thus-goneness” carries the ontological curve of the hollowing spatial real. Hollowness and lightness are the codes by which one might read both the images from Woodman’s photographs in an abandoned house and her Angels.

In the Angels, and related On Being an Angel, photographs, the body of the girl (who is Woodman) depicts a quality of near disembodiment, with the flourish at the edges of the body as detritus. If Prosser posits the unbearable loss of Barthes’s mother as the engine of Barthes’s need for photography to provide the path of death that words cannot provide, then Woodman creates images that provide the path of nullity for reasons that remain powerfully latent in the images. Instead of offering personal confession, the images are deeply informed by the privative code of the photographic as such. As Sloan Rankin suggests in her commentaries on Woodman’s history, when Woodman was making the photographs on which her reputation now rests, she was not depressed but healthy and even joyous.54 The slant and precarious beauty of the images expresses this delicate space of joy and recognizes the emptiness of the physical and temporal world not as a pathological state but as an enlightened state. Woodman was not a student of Zen in the sense of studying Buddhism, but her work exemplifies a careful and serious encounter with the ephemeral contours of embodiment, an encounter that Woodman repeatedly stages in photographs that repeat and exhaust embodiment.

In that Woodman’s reception history had a decidedly gendered slant, her work’s meditative intellectual energy has been somewhat overlooked, in favor of readings that contend with an assumption that some form of gendered pathology inspired her work.55 There are sharp and painful explorations of gender in her work – not just a nightmare of the feminine but also the illusion of objects in time and space is exposed in the delicate and frightening imagery of Woodman’s photographs. Importantly, Woodman titled photographs Space and Space2 (Providence, Rhode Island, 1975–1978), thus indicating that the images interact with space itself and render space in the flat plane of the photograph (Figure 5.11).

In House #3 (Figure 5.10), Woodman looks as if she had just crashed through the window. The fractured lines of light seem to emanate from the shoulders of the figure of the girl crouched beneath the windowsill. The blurred figure suggests not a ghostly figure but more directly a figure without weight, or one whose weight is of a different quality and force than we usually accord with the human body. The room seems to sway with a kind of wind, as if the figure of the girl, falling in, shaped the room into a hollow. Each echo of this hollow is articulated and embellished by the photograph’s implicit gestures of counter-comparison: the damaged wall, the fracture line of the wall, the overly bright (overexposed) light of the trees, the trees as fracture lines, the girl both overexposed and blurred (because of a long exposure time during which Woodman moved), and the floor covered with detritus as if the building were emptying itself. This ascesis is Woodman’s enlightenment, her coming to terms with the illusory nature of the physical world by photographing its limits, photographing the places where home is not, in fact, home and cannot protect or sustain us. Similarly, Woodman’s Angels (Rome, Italy, 1977) questions the boundary of flesh and illusion and of the unseen seen. In the image from an abandoned factory in Rome, Woodman seems to be trying to levitate, but the fey joke of the image is the impossibility of flight for the body in gravity. And yet this picture also abounds with the pun of the illusion of materiality, the present absence of the body as it attempts, comically, to transcend gravity to gain control of its own illusory field. The place where it happens is marked by the photograph as a wound of time. The nubile body half-stripped tries to jump out of its skin, out of its social position, or, more straightforwardly, out of its materiality and its illusory secured place in space and time.

The photograph as illusion that leads to truth, the way of the dead, is particularly relevant to Woodman’s Angels. She creates the most obvious and banal illusion, the image of the angel in a postlapsarian space, and infuses it with awareness of its falsity that becomes exemplification of its truth. The camera opens the path of the dead through its proscenium function, its ability to create a stage. The stage she uses is carefully set and also vacuous, inhabited by a problematic shift of gravity. In an image from the Angels, the gravity of partial nudity marks the angelic body that tries to lift itself above earth in a partial escape. The action is echoed by the clumsy wing-like sheets draped above the jumping figure, toward which the figure gestures. The young girl’s partial nudity, her thin arms, and her long hair that attempt to reach the sky signify in graphic detail the impossibility of flight, but the photograph as the path of the dead signifies its own domain here, as Woodman stages the facing of the immaterial through the material and stages the invisible through the visible. The angle of the shot forces us to look up through the impossibility of her path, through the narrow gauge of light that is the impossible domain of her trajectory. The photograph becomes the way of the dead not because Woodman has a death wish but because she is true to the medium of photography. She is true to photog- raphy’s capacity not to stop time but to show the fractionary gait of time, the mortal divisions of depth that imbricate the body in time that is almost light.

Figure 5.14 Francesca Woodman, From Polka Dots, Providence, Rhode Island, 1976,gelatin silver print, 51⁄8 × 51⁄8 in. Courtesy George and Betty Woodman


Polka dot oneiric

The camera-produced image, the photograph, may not invite or even permit the viewer’s act of imagination, argues Jean Baudrillard: the hyperreal instead stays above the mortal and dreaming world, a kind of final, fatal Platonic form that forces out the negotiations of thought.56 Here Baudrillard extends, perhaps, Theodor Adorno’s thesis that diabolical popular culture actively deprives the proletariat of the space of dreams, imagination, and aesthetic force.57 Woodman’s series of near-self-portraits oscillate between popular culture – a cult following of a sort – and fine art – they have been displayed at the Tate Modern in London, the Guggenheim Museum in San Francisco and in New York City, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Most attempts to explain the power of her images come up short – we venerate the cult of the dead girl, or we see her links to surrealism, and maybe her inchoate feminism, but cannot explain why any of that matters. And yet, I think another way to read the power of Woodman’s photographs – perhaps an eccentric reading but one not antithetical to my earlier readings of her work as contending with the Kantian sublime – is by tracing the force of the oneiric as it pulses through the images’ striking constellations of the nude female body, damaged architecture, and frames of violence implicit and obscure.58 The shapes of things as they emerge in understanding rather than in fact form the visual game of some of Woodman’s images.

Consider the photograph Polka Dots (Figure 5.14), one of the two images chosen for the poster of the popular culture film The Woodmans.59 The image from Polka Dots pulls the eye to multiple fractionary darknesses in the frame: the polka dots, the damaged walls pitted with dark marks and gaps, the girl’s eyes, and most saliently the girl’s body, which is shown as a shadow beneath and within her partly opened dress. As if she were showing a wound, or the way the body is a site of wounding, and as if she were her own doubting Thomas, Woodman places – and invites the viewer to place – a hand in the wound of the open dress. This wound is the weighted gape manifest not as the female body but rather as the mortal body overwritten by gendered codes of fragility. The girl in the picture looks not only vulnerable but also terrifying, as if crouched to take flight, her crouched form echoing the large black spot on the wall above her, with its wing-like irregularities. The image invites us deeper inward, even as the form – the photograph – is the essence of surface, the definitive superficial. As Baudrillard argues, the photograph is a realm without depth, or as Woodman put it, the photographic image is flattened to fit paper. This play on the premise of depth in the visual scape of superficiality arrests the image and traps it in its own performance. This entrapment is much as we experience dreams as a concatenation of images and symbols that are so com- pressed, or pressed together, as to impress us with a sense of the impossibility of resolving them into translatable meaning. This tractive quality of resisting translation makes some of Woodman’s photographs almost inexplicably powerful. That is, given her social place – a privileged child whose subject matter can superficially appear to be meditation on the end or edge of childhood’s privilege – we might not expect the images to carry such heft. But they do carry a disturbing and penetrating force: training a gaze looking always into rooms whose inaccessibility manifests as cognate with the limits of language, Woodman’s photographs force their claim to inhabit and sustain an untranslatable visual realm.

But are Woodman’s photographic images evil demons in the Baudrillardian sense? Woodman’s photographs do not negate the imaginary; rather, they propel the imaginary so far forward as to compel our acceptance of the blank space around the photograph, that is, compel us to reach and see the end of the photograph, what Barthes calls its blind field.60 In the same way that Agamben shows that the poem is always about its own ending, so also Woodman’s most accomplished photographs tell us to look away.61

In the Polka Dots (Figure 5.14) photograph, Woodman’s thumb is in her mouth, partly a play on infantile regression but also a literal play on words: the thumb sup- pressing speech forces us to look to the open dress, with its wound-like turn of flesh. Language moves from words to code, here, from the words the thumb sup- presses in the mouth to the code of geometrically regressive interiority by which the image stakes its claim. This interiority is not manifestly sexual but rather onto- logical, an interiority of the wound of the eye, the wound of the embodied gaze. The palpable metaphor for the eye here is the polka dots themselves.

The wound that is the eye, the image tells us, grants and also is risked by the force of sight, the room we do not choose to inhabit is the room we most clearly see. As in dreams, we inhabit not the spaces of the demonic but spaces of force when we look at Woodman’s more successful images. Whereas one could interpret this “eye” along Georges Bataille’s sexualized terms, the challenge in reading Wood- man’s photography is that to see the force of the images is to divest oneself of the pathologizing gaze of looking at Woodman as the troubled teen, a bad or crazed girl.62 It is harder but more tallied to the images to see in Woodman’s best photo- graphs the tension of the forms’ harness of mortal time and fate as space, the body as space in space, an easeless and terrifying emergence.

Notes

  1. See Olga M.Viso, Ana Mendieta: Earth Body (Berlin: Hatje Cantz, 2004) and Olga M.Viso, Unseen Mendieta:The Unpublished Works of Ana Mendieta (London: Prestel, 2008); see also Claire Raymond, Francesca Woodman and the Kantian Sublime (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2010).
  2. See Elisabeth Bronfen, Over Her Dead Body: Death, Femininity, and the Aesthetic (Manches- ter, UK: Manchester University Press, 1992); see also Claire Raymond, The Posthumous Voice in Women’s Writing (Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2006) and Debra Ferrday, “A Waif ’s Progress: Kate Moss and the Feminine Uncanny,” Feminist Media Studies 14, no. 5 (2014): 791–805.
  3. Jane Simon,“An Intimate Mode of Looking: Francesca Woodman’s Photographs,” Emo- tion, Space and Society 3, no. 1 (2010): 28–35.
  4. Carolee Schneeman, “Regarding Ana Mendieta,” Women and Performance: A Journal of Feminist Theory 21, no. 2 (July 2011): 183–90.
  5. Judy Chicago’s Menstruation Bathroom in the performance and exhibition Womanhouse (1972) and her better-known work The Dinner Party (1979) illustrate a rather direct and graphic invocation of the female body, as was popular in the era’s feminist art practices.
  6. The photographs that speak to the visual concept of the angelic include On Being an Angel (1976), From Angel series (1977), From a series on Angels (1977), and Angels (1977– 78). See Del Valle-Cordero, “Ana Mendieta: Performance in the Way of the Primitive,” Arte Individua y Sociedad 26, no. 1 (2014): 67–82; see also Anca Cristofovici,“Performing Corpo-Realities,” Consciousness, Literature and the Arts 19 ( January 2009): 157–91.
  7. By using the term “haunting,” I do not mean that Mendieta and Woodman invoke the spectral, the shadowy, the insubstantial; there are important differences between haunt- ing, which implies power and the return of the oppressed, and spectrality, which suggests ethereality. On this argument, see Avery Gordon, Ghostly Matters (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1999). That said, many scholars who write on Wood- man describe her as a ghost: see Prema Purigali Prabhakar,“Invoking the Spectral Body: A Study of Potential Corporealities in the Work of Marina Abramovic and Francesca Woodman,” Excursions 1, no. 1 (2010): 91–101; and see also Katharine Conley, Surrealist Ghostliness (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2013).
  8. Clara Escoda Agusti, “‘I Carve Myself into My Hands: The Body Experienced from Within in Ana Mendieta’s Work and Migdalia Cruz’s ‘Miriam Flowers,’” Hispanic Review 75, no. 3 (Summer 2007): 289–311.
  9. Any consideration of Ana Mendieta’s work should begin with Olga M.Viso’s incompa- rable studies of the artist. Please see Viso, Ana Mendieta: Earth Body.
  10. See Viso, Unseen Mendieta.
  11. Claire Raymond, “Roland Barthes, Ana Mendieta, and the Orphaned Image,” The Con- versant: Interview Projects, Talk Poetry, Embodied Inquiry, September, 2014, http://theconver sant.org/?p=7854.
  12. Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography (New York: Macmillan, 1981), 6.
  13. Before her death, Mendieta received the Prix de Rome and was a respected artist. See Joyce Wadler, “A Death in Art,” New York, December 16, 1985, 38.
  14. Cuban American artist Coco Fusco included Ana Mendieta in her brilliant performance installation BetterYetWhen Dead at the Festival Internacional de Arte de Medellin in Colombia in 1997, which commented on Mendieta’s ascension in the art world after her death.
  15. Jane Blocker, Where Is Ana Mendieta? (Durham, NC: Duke University Press 1999).
  16. 16 Ibid., 52–53.
  17. Silueta Series, performance photographed in a series of 35 mm color slides, 1976.
  18. Stephanie Rosenthal, Adrian Heathfield, and Julia Bryan-Wilson, Ana Mendieta: Traces (London: Hayward Publishing, 2013).
  19. Commenting on her own work, Mendieta stated: “I have been carrying out a dialogue between the landscape and the female body I believe this has been a direct result of my having been torn from [Cuba]. My art is the way I re-establish the bonds that unite me to the universe. It is a return to the maternal source. Through my earth/body sculptures I become one with the earth. I become an extension of nature and nature becomes an extension of my body. This obsessive act of reasserting my ties with the earth is really the reactivation of primaeval beliefs  [in] an omnipresent female force, the after-image of being encompassed within the womb.” See Petra Barreras del Rio and John Perreault, Ana Mendieta: A Retrospective (New York: New Museum of Contempo- rary Art, 1988), 10.
  20. Although Mendieta made a hundred silhouettes, she took thousands of slides archiving them. See Susan Best,“The Serial Spaces of Ana Mendieta,” Art History 30, no. 1 (Febru- ary 2007): 57–82.
  21. Ann Gabhart, ed., Francesca Woodman: Photographic Work (Wellesley, MA:Wellesley College Museum/Hunter College Art Gallery, 1989).
  22. Hervé Chandès, ed., Francesca Woodman (Zurich: Scalo, 1998).
  23. Chris Townsend, Francesca Woodman (London: Phaidon, 2006).
  24. Claire Raymond, Francesca Woodman and the Kantian Sublime (Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2010).
  25. Corey Keller, Julia Bryan-Wilson, and Jennifer Blessing, Francesca Woodman (San Fran- cisco, CA: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 2013).
  26. Woodman also exhibited at the Sammlung Verbund Gallery, in 2014. See Betsey Berne, Gabriele Schor, and Elisabeth Bronfen, eds., Francesca Woodman:Works from the Sammlung Verbund (Kologne:Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther Koenig and New York, New York: Distributed Arts Publishers, 2014).
  27. Carol Armstrong, “Francesca Woodman: A Ghost in the House,” in Women Artists at the Millennium, ed. Catherine de Zegher and Carol Armstrong (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2006), 351.
  28. Barthes, Camera Lucida, 93–4.
  29. On Woodman’s Blueprint for a Temple and other diazotypes, see Claire Raymond, Francesca Woodman’s Dark Gaze (London: Routledge, 2016); see also Harriet Riches, “Projecting Touch: Francesca Woodman’s Late ‘Blueprints,’” Photographies 5, no. 2 (2012): 135–57.
  30. Butler, Gender Trouble (London: Routledge, 1990) 129–49.
  31. Townsend, Francesca Woodman.
  32. Ibid.
  33. Elisabeth Bronfen, “Leaving an Imprint: Francesca Woodman’s Photographic Tableaux Vivants,” in Francesca Woodman:Works from the Sammlung Verbund, ed. Betsey Berne, Gabri- ele Schor, and Elisabeth Bronfen (Kologne, Germany:Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther Koenig and New York: Distributed Arts Publishers, 2014), 11–30.
  34. Meaghan Thurston,“‘At Home in Dust’: Francesca Woodman’s House Series, Revisited,” FORUM: University of Edinburgh Postgraduate Journal of Culture and the Arts 11 (Autumn 2010): 2–13.
  35. Raymond, Woodman and the Kantian Sublime.
  36. Barthes, Camera Lucida15.
  37. Ibid., 74.
  38. Sloane Rankin, “Peach Mumble – Ideas Cooking,” in Francesca Woodman, ed. Hervé Chandès (Zurich: Scalo, 1998): 34–35.
  39. Barthes, Camera Lucida, 31.
  40. Blocker, Where Is Ana Mendieta?
  41. Woodman’s spoken opinion on feminism was ambivalent, and this ambiguity is vis- ible in her works. See Berne, Schor, and Bronfen, Francesca Woodman. See also Elisabete Lopes, “Francesca Woodman’s Journey into the Gothic Wonderland,” in Women and the Arts: Dialogues in Female Creativity, ed. Diana V. Almeida (Bern, Switzerland: Peter Lang, 2013), 71–84. See also Peggy Phelan, “Francesca Woodman’s Photography: Death and the Image One More Time,” Signs: A Journal of Women in Culture and Society 27, no. 4 (Summer 2002): 979–1004; and see also, Harriet Riches,“A Disappearing Act: Francesca Woodman’s Portrait of a Reputations,” Oxford Art Journal 27, no. 1 (2004): 95–113.
  42. Whether Andre killed Mendieta or whether she accidentally fell during an argument is a question that only Andre can answer. He was twice tried, and twice acquitted, of her murder. See Vincent Patrick,“A Death in the Art World,” New York Times, June 10, 1990.
  43. Mendieta photographed all of the Silueta Series images in which she did not appear, which means that she was the photographer for almost the whole series. Other people photographed the performance works in which she did physically appear. For this reason, I limit myself to discussing her Silueta Series.
  44. Armstrong, “Francesca Woodman: A Ghost in the House”; see also Conley, Surrealist Ghostliness.
  45. See Johanna Demetrakas’s documentary film Womanhouse, 1974, www.wmm.com/film catalog/pages/c324.shtml. See also http://womanhouse.net.
  46. Roland Barthes, Mythologies, trans. Annette Lavers (New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1972).
  47. Barthes, Camera Lucida, 79.
  48. Jacques Derrida, Specters of Marx (London: Routledge, 2006), 132.
  49. Woodman created the abandoned house images in Providence, Rhode Island, while a student at RISD, photographing in abandoned spaces, implicitly those buildings ignored by the government. Providence was later the scene of one of the largest class-action lawsuits for lead poisoning of young children in substandard housing. See Jenna Ber- man,“Rhode Island’s Childhood Lead Poisoning Crisis Remains Painted Thickly on the Wall after State v. Lead Industries Association,” Villanova Environmental Law Journal 20, no. 2 (2009): 217.
  50. Avery Gordon describes ways that the social figure of the ghost encodes her own process of being haunted by cultural terms of violence and silencing. See Gordon, Ghostly Mat- ters: Haunting and the Sociological Imagination (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1999), 140–1.
  51. I developed the next two sections of this chapter, “Francesca Woodman’s Zen” and “Polka Dot Oneiric,” from blog posts that originally appeared on my website, www. claireraymond.org.
  52. Jay Prosser, “Buddha Barthes: What Barthes Saw in Photography (That He Didn’t in Literature),” in Photography Degree Zero: Reflections on Roland Barthes’s Camera Lucida, ed. Geoffrey Batchen (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2009), 91–105.
  53. While there is significant nuance in the way that different theorists approach and inter- pret the question of Francesca Woodman’s state of mental health – and I regret very much that there is not the space in this chapter to offer detailed readings and interpreta- tions of these various theorists, all very valuable in what they bring to discussion of her work – my point is simply that the very fact of Woodman’s mental health being empha- sized in scholarship arguably can have the effect of pulling attention away from the pho- tographic work. See Phelan, “Francesca Woodman’s Photography: Death and the Image One More Time”; Adele Tutter, “Metamorphosis and the Aesthetics of Loss: II. Lady of the Woods – the Transformative Lens of Francesca Woodman,” International Journal of Psychoanalysis 92, no. 6 (December 2011): 1517–39; see also Anna C. Chave,“Normal Ills: On Embodiment,Victimization and the Origins of Feminist Art,” in Trauma and Visuality in Modernity, ed. Lisa Saltzman and Eric Rosenberg (Hanover, NH: Dartmouth College Press, 2006), 138.
  54. Scott Willis, The Woodmans, C. Scott Films, 2011.
  55. Phelan, “Francesca Woodman’s Photography: Death and the Image One More Time.” See also Jui Ch’i Lui, “Woodman’s Self Images: Transforming Bodies in the Space of Femininity,” Woman’s Art Journal 25 (Spring–Summer 2004): 26–31; Tutter, “Metamor- phosis and the Aesthetics of Loss: II”; Amy Sherlock, “Multiple Exposures: Identity and Alterity in the ‘Self-Portraits’ of Francesca Woodman,” Paragraph 36, no. 3 (Novem- ber 2013): 376–91.
  56. Jean Baudrillard, Simulations and Simulacra, trans. Sheila Glaser (Ann Arbor, MI: Michigan University Press, 1994).
  57. Theodor Adorno,“The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception,” in Dialectic of Enlightenment, ed. Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno (Redwood City, CA: Stan- ford University Press, 2002): 94–137.
  58. Raymond, Francesca Woodman and the Kantian Sublime.
  59. Willis, The Woodmans.
  60. Barthes, Camera Lucida, 57.
  61. Giorgio Agamben, The End of the Poem: Studies in Poetics (Redwood City, CA: Stanford University Press, 1999).
  62. Georges Bataille, Story of the Eye, trans. Joachim Neugroschal (London: Penguin Modern Classics, 2001).

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Women Photographers and Feminist Aesthetics

Investigation of the photography of Ana Mendieta and Francesca Woodman.

Words by

Claire Raymond

Fig 5.10 © Francesca Woodman, House #3, Providence, Rhode Island, 1976,23⁄8 ×67⁄16 in. Courtesy George and Betty Woodman.

The book Women Photographers and Feminist Aesthetics by Claire Raymond makes the case for a feminist aesthetics in photography by analysing key works of twenty-two women photographers, including cis- and trans-woman photographers. Claire Raymond provides close readings of key photographs spanning the history of photography, from nineteenth-century Europe to twenty-first century Africa and Asia. She offers original interpretations of well-known photographers such as Diane Arbus, Sally Mann, and Carrie Mae Weems, analysing their work in relation to gender, class, and race. The book also pays close attention to the way in which indigenous North Americans have been represented through photography and the ways in which contemporary Native American women photographers respond to this history. In this part she investigates the photography of Ana Mendieta and Francesca Woodman.

This is a reprint of the Chapter 5 Afterimages Ana Mendieta and Francesca Woodman by Claire Raymond, with the permission of the author.

Photographer Francesca Woodman and photographer and earthworks and body artist Ana Mendieta share the unhappy fate of being artists who did not get the chance to develop their work over the course of a long life; Woodman died at 22 and Mendieta at 36. And yet, Mendieta’s photographic recording of her earthworks and body performances shapes a multimedia oeuvre of great significance, while Francesca Woodman’s enigmatic photographs constitute one of the most fascinating bodies of photographic work produced in the later twentieth century. 1The question of whether the early deaths of these artists set the stage for interest in their art after their deaths is complicated. The cultural allure of the woman who dies while young is deeply entrenched in the Western aesthetic, glamorized in the mid-nineteenth century and manifested in the late-twentieth-century popular- ity of the ultrathin, brink-of-death waif look.2 In a troubling way, Mendieta and Woodman seem to gain artistic stature by dying horrible and early deaths, and yet these artists’ photographic works also predict, exploit, and subvert our culture’s desire for the sacrificial figure of the deathly, beautiful woman. For Woodman and Mendieta do not directly owe their current reputations as artists to their scandalous deaths. Instead, their art stages, confronts, rebuts, and overturns the valorization of the deathly, passive feminine, even as the terms of this cultural feminine haunt the reception of their work.

Born 10 years apart, Ana Mendieta (1948–1985) and Francesca Woodman (1958–1981) participated in very different ways in the feminist art of the 1970s. In the late 1970s, Mendieta was active in the A.I.R. gallery, an all-woman feminist collective in Manhattan. Her photographed earthworks and body works present a fusion of cultural feminist bodily representation with broader sculptural interest in earthworks. During this time, Woodman was a student at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) who expressed the feminist art zeitgeist by creating a large number of photographs of herself nude.3 Both Mendieta and Woodman gesture    obliquely but unmistakably to feminist performance art of the 1970s – art that laid claim to and celebrated woman’s embodied experience.4 Carolee Schneeman, Judy Chicago, and Miriam Schapiro emphasized in their work aspects of female embodi- ment that had hitherto been considered taboo, improper for fine art.5 Mendieta and Woodman, then, are of the same era in American art even as their personal back- grounds are very different. Both focus a significant portion of their work on tracing, representing, and photographing the female body. Mendieta creates the temporally expansive Silueta Series, and Woodman creates an oeuvre of small black-and-white photographs, including the House, Space, Space2, and Angels series, several notable diazotypes, and her much larger masterwork, Blueprint for a Temple.6

Although Mendieta and Woodman emerge from the body-oriented feminist art movement of the 1970s, they diverge from artists such as Carolee Schneeman, Mary Beth Edelson and Hannah Wilke by creating works that formally (that is, through a skewing of form) trouble and swerve from the represented presence of the female body. They show that body as trace, echo, and blur, and they predict the feminism of the late twentieth century in that their depictions of the female body show its elusion. Mendieta’s and Woodman’s photographs, though, push far beyond the truisms of deconstructivist feminism. They engage the female body as a template for exploring the mark of time, mortality, citizenship, and ontology – that is, the meaning of being.They explore the embodiment of fate – gender as fate – in their photographic works. By invoking the term fate, I do not mean that Mendieta and Woodman were passive and helpless in their art. I mean that their art predicts and shows the limitations of poststructuralist feminist theory that postulates gender as a series of performative gestures. Pushing beyond notions of the performative, the two artists show gender as a form of haunting, a fate that catches or marks the subject despite and even against her own choices and will.7 Their art does not advocate acceptance of this fate. Indeed, it is exactly in the depth and the power with which they show gender as fate that inheres their refusal of its terms. Fate is the circumstance that catches the subject unprepared; gender, as explored visually in Wood- man’s and Mendieta’s work, surfaces as a force that catches the subject unprepared. Their work visually iterates the struggle and force of returning to substance, as the self is caught in the matrix of materiality. In visually evoking the tactile, haptic, and textural, their art stages extraordinary resistance to superficial theories of gender as performance and also to the bitterly entrenched ways that a woman becomes a woman because of how she is culturally seen. The violence of their work breaks apart received ways of seeing and opens new opportunities to comprehend not only gender but also exile, earth, space, mortality, and time.

Fig. 5.1 Ana Mendieta, Untitled: Silueta Series, 1976, earth/bodywork, Mexico, 35mm color slides. © The Estate of Ana Mendieta Collection, L.L.C., Courtesy Galerie Lelong, New York.

Ana Mendieta’s Invisible Photographs

Ana Mendieta was active until the mid-1980s.8 I write about her photographic works because photographs and a not-insignificant collection of films are what is principally left of her oeuvre. That said, Mendieta is generally regarded as an earthworks and body artist.9 Mendieta’s career indeed shows an uncanny aspect of photography, its ability to consume and transpose different art forms. She produced hundreds of photographs, mainly slides, documenting and recording her earthworks performances, and I will focus on the ones from her Silueta Series.10 While Mendieta was alive and producing her art, she considered her photographs to be documents of her earthworks and body works; even so, I suggest that her photographs are primary artistic legacy.11 Roland Barthes’s argument that we perceive the image rather than the photograph – “it is not it that we see” – is especially true of Ana Mendieta’s body of work.12 She continues to be widely interpreted as an earth- works and body artist even as her fame has ascended exponentially after her death, a fame that largely rests on the photographic images she created. A respected artist before her death, Mendieta yet struggled for major gallery and museum representation.13 After her death, her photographs and other works are represented by the prestigious Galerie LeLong, and her work has been displayed in New York City’s Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and London’s Southbank Centre. I mention these facts not to suggest that having one’s work shown in well-regarded galleries and museums has aesthetic meaning in itself – it does not – but instead to make clear that Mendieta’s reputation as an artist has grown significantly stronger in the decades after her death.14 Since she is no longer alive to perform earthworks and body works, one must conclude that her ascent in reputation is based in part on the photographs that document her earthworks and body works. Many of these were slides, created to be shown with a projector. The materiality of photographic slides aligns with Mendieta’s somewhat uncanny oeuvre: slides are too tiny to view accurately with the naked eye, but when projected the image will fill a wall as a kind of phantasmagoric monument. On this wall, it has an immaterial quality, entirely projected light and image. Yet it also has the force of a large work, filling the wall. Mendieta seems to have chosen slides for their convenience as documentation of her earthworks, but it is worth considering how the uncanny materiality of slides supports the haunting discourse of her oeuvre, its thematics of exile and trace, presence in absence.

Mendieta was born in Cuba into a wealthy and politically powerful family that fell from favor when Castro came to power. In an effort to save their children, her parents sent Ana, then age 12, and her elder sister, Raquelin, to the United States through Operation Peter Pan, and they entered foster care in Iowa.15 The state proved a cruel place for Mendieta, because it was rife with racism. She later remembered being called the “little whore” by her Iowa classmates, simply because of the color of her skin.16 At the University of Iowa, Mendieta enrolled in the master of arts program, where she met Hans Breder, a teacher who became her lover. Traveling with Breder to Mexico, Mendieta began to create her numerically massive Silueta Series in the early 1970s. While Breder was photographing Mendieta nude at La Ventosa, Mendieta was creating some of the most striking images in this series.

The Silueta images that Mendieta created at Salina Cruz (1976) are among the most powerful in the larger series of images that she called Siluetas (Figures 5.1–5.9).17

Focusing my discussion on this very small subset of images drawn from the enormous Silueta Series, I choose images that stand out as exemplary. And yet, to begin to grasp Mendieta’s work, one must view as many of the Siluetas as possible. Only such viewing of this massive series that Mendieta continued to develop until her death reveals the obsessive force with which Mendieta approached and worked through the problem of how to represent, in photographs, the pain of exile. The Silueta Series is a work that, in the years when she was creating it, Mendieta claimed would have no end. The images photographed at Salina Cruz show the outline of a woman’s body that Mendieta traced in the sand near the boundary of the ocean. Along the traced outline, she has placed red pigment. As the ocean tide rises, it progressively sweeps the figure into the water (Figures 5.1–5.9). Mendieta shot the photographs low and at close frame so that nothing could be seen apart from the essential elements of the earthworks performance: the sand, the ocean, the outline of the woman’s form, and the red tinge. The close frame gives a sense of intimacy and sparseness to the image. There are no people, just a feminine outline that is eroded by the waves. There is no sky, just water, sand, and red. The sense of desolation is palpable.

Fig 5.2 Ana Mendieta, Untitled: Silueta Series, 1976, earth/bodywork, Mexico, 35mm color slides. © The Estate of Ana Mendieta Collection, L.L.C., Courtesy Galerie Lelong, New York.
Fig. 5.4 Ana Mendieta, Untitled: Silueta Series, 1976, earth/bodywork, Mexico, 35mm color slides. © The Estate of Ana Mendieta Collection, L.L.C., Courtesy Galerie Lelong, New York.

But to say that Mendieta is creating images of disappearance is a false reading. Instead, she is marking the earth with the female body’s outline and the red pigment. The way the ocean slowly erodes the contours of this mark is expressed photographically as a series: Mendieta photographs the erosion of the outline she has made. The photographs then become a more permanent mark and in this sense double the Silueta, thus standing as a record of the marks Mendieta has made on the earth. Never the story of disappearance, her photographs documenting earthworks and body performance insist on the artist’s capacity to make her mark even as the images profoundly evoke the sense of personal anguish that comes with exile and loss of one’s homeland.

The elements of the color red and the ocean suggest Santería, an Afro-Caribbean religion that incorporates elements of Roman Catholicism. Mendieta was well versed in Santería, although she was raised Roman Catholic.18 In the Salina Cruz series of Silueta, Mendieta conjures Yemaya, the mother-goddess who lives in the ocean, whereas the red set by the feminine outline suggests blood. The images, though, supersede and can be read without knowledge of Santería. They show a profound dispossession and express the condition of exile and loss: a small feminine outline eroded and cast adrift into the ocean. But the idea that Mendieta is simply staging feminine erasure in the Silueta Series does not begin to limn how instead the images show dissolution and return: what goes into the ocean does not disappear but becomes part of the ocean, circling with the currents and insistently returning to shore. The back-and-forth motion of the waves skew temporal readings of the photographs so that there is no exact moment at which the mark of the outline is effaced but rather several scenes of formal interaction between the ocean and the woman’s outline, as gradually the ocean and the outline merge.

Mendieta traces her personal and political experience of exile in these images by elegantly limned symbolic form. The rise of her reputation as an artist in the twenty-first century rests on the unique power of her photographic work to simultaneously evoke the experience of exile, orphanhood, and the claiming of place or the making of one’s mark no matter how fate conspires to cause one’s silence. Her Silueta photographs explore with power and persistence the condition of exile and loss and the longing for return to a homeland that Mendieta uses as a metaphor for womb-like and maternal.19 Their power is to set a claim on a place, no matter how dispossessed one is.20

The dissolution of the figure of the feminine that Mendieta repeatedly stages in her haunting Silueta photographs is not a personal confession of her desire to not exist. Instead, the Siluetas call the viewer to contend with her own lost places and her own claim on place, especially her claim on spaces from which she has been cast out. Mendieta stamps the earth with her Silueta earthworks, and the voluminous body of photographs that document her Silueta Series stands as one of the most important interventions in feminist art of the late twentieth century. I say this because Mendieta’s photographic work contends with issues of exile and the lost condition of the human in ways that go beneath and beyond the obsession with costumery and performativity made popular in the late twentieth century by Judith Butler and Cindy Sherman. In the twenty-first century, the problem of displaced persons, exiles, and refugees is epidemic. Mendieta’s oeuvre, and especially her photography, addresses this problem of exile. Mendieta is an important photographer because the fearless and brilliant works that she created show the orphanhood of existence – the state of exile – which is more and more common in our twenty- first-century world. Her work evokes the necessity of claiming one’s place even in this fragile and shifting terrain. This ability of Mendieta’s Silueta photographs to evoke the state of the exile and to shape a visceral facing of it makes her work of increasing importance and concern in the twenty-first century.

Fig 5.10 © Francesca Woodman, House #3, Providence, Rhode Island, 1976,23⁄8 ×67⁄16 in. Courtesy George and Betty Woodman. 


Francesca Woodman’s House

Born in Boulder, Colorado, in 1958, Francesca Woodman was something of a photography prodigy. She began taking striking and memorable photographs as a young teen. By the time she was in her late teens and early twenties, she was already producing a body of work that ultimately would place her among the more interesting, evocative, and debated photographers of the late twentieth century. Although Woodman created her photographs from the early 1970s until her death by suicide in 1981, her reputation as a photographer is largely a twenty- first-century phenomenon. Some six years after her death, Woodman’s mother, the ceramic artist Betty Woodman, engineered a small exhibition of Francesca Wood- man photographs at Wellesley College Museum in Wellesley, Massachusetts. The exhibit featured catalog essays by prominent feminist art historians, notably including Abigail Solomon-Godeau, whose essay “Just Like a Woman” is a classic feminist analysis of Woodman’s work.21 In 1998, Fondation Cartier mounted an exhibit in Paris, and Scalo Publishers brought out an important book of Woodman’s photo- graphs, featuring essays by the likes of philosopher Philippe Sollers.22 In 2004, the Marian Goodman Gallery in New York City featured Woodman’s work, and the photographer’s reputation began to gather steam. In 2006, Phaidon Press brought out a splendid collection of her photographs.23 In 2010, the first full-length mono- graph on Woodman’s work appeared.24 In 2011 and 2012, her work was shown at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Guggenheim Museum in NewYork City and at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.25 Thirty years after her death, the photography prodigy had arrived.26

But this posthumous reputation created Francesca Woodman as a kind of cult phenomenon, a photographer adored by some outside of the art world and debated or even disparaged within it. Art historian Carol Armstrong writes that a male col- league responded dismissively to her article on Francesca Woodman by questioning her attention to the achievement of an adolescent: opines Armstrong, “I think he may have meant an adolescent girl’s achievement.”27

Fig 5.11 © Francesca Woodman, From Space2, Providence, Rhode Island, 1976, gelatin silverprint, 23⁄8 × 67⁄16 in. Courtesy George and Betty Woodman.

Woodman’s status as a very young woman when she created her photographic oeuvre erects a barrier to her work being taken seriously. Despite the power of her photographs and despite the fact that major museums have exhibited and purchased her work, art historians who write on Woodman are almost always women writing feminist theory. That does not misrepresent Woodman’s photography – her work draws powerfully on themes of gender – but it does reflect the excessive gendering of Woodman’s corpus. She is not a photographer about whom esteemed male art historians seem to care to spend their time studying and writing (David Levi Strauss and Benjamin Buchloh being significant exceptions). Even so, Francesca Woodman attracts a kind of popular adulation that only the Internet age could measure. She is tweeted and blogged about, and digital versions of her photographs circulate widely. Not only is her posthumous fame something that occurred in the twenty-first century, but also the viewing habits of the twenty-first century seem matched to her enigmatic, quixotic work. Each time we look at a Francesca Woodman photograph online, we see an image the artist did not intend to take up space on the gallery or museum wall – unlike the work of many professional photographers. Instead, her work reads like a secret door into a mystery, uncannily appropriate to float randomly up through the flotsam and jetsam of the Internet. The reason Woodman’s work was not intended to fill a gallery wall is that she died before she was invited to have gallery representation. Near the end of her life, Woodman did display the work Blueprint for a Temple in Manhattan’s Alternative Museum.

Her later works in diazotype are large, most notably the Blueprint for a Temple,

which is 15 feet high and originally (when Woodman showed the work shortly before her death) filled two walls of the Alternative Museum, whereas her earlier black and white photographs are quite tiny, 5 inches by 7 inches or smaller. Despite her later turn toward a monumental scale, Woodman’s work has been called diaristic, that is, like diary pictures. But on the contrary, her enigmatic photographs confess nothing personal – thematizing instead time, space, mortality, and  embodiment. Woodman’s photograph My House and her House and Space2 series (1975–1976) present the photograph as a kind of fate, something that seals an event in its ineluctable that-has-been-ness, “a fugitive but certain testimony.”28 These images are not necessarily the most important and substantial of Woodman’s work – her later diazotypes fill this role – but these series represent Woodman’s quintessential work, that by which most audiences, if they know her, recognize her.29 In these photographs, this testimony of gender as fate works at a slant to late-twentieth-century theories of gender as an apparent garment effected by language, discourse, sign.30 In Woodman’s photographs, gender is a sign that, in its very excessiveness, returns and wounds the subject, becoming fate.

Even as the House and Space2 images showcase temporal distortions (Figures 5.10 and 5.11), in these images Woodman’s affinities with the feminist performance art of her era are striking. Her work elides the boundaries between genres, thus coming to rest as photography not so much in its inception as in its reception.31 I do not mean that Woodman did not conceive of herself as a photographer: clearly, she did. But the genius of Woodman’s work is the scene, the symbolic torque. Her power is oneiric and her work has the aura of fate. In this, she deploys the photograph as a sign of fate – never an actual truth but an encoding of image that appears as truth – that which is written for us. The photographs of the House and Space2 series and the image, My House, stage a young woman, Woodman herself, as the double of dilapidated interiors rich with visual rhymes that reveal formal consanguinities between the ruined architectural spaces and the young woman inhabiting them (Figures 5.10, 5.11, and 5.12). As Chris Townsend rightly points out, Woodman diverges from the Pictures Generation, which emphasized pastiche and repetition of stock images and with which she is contemporaneous, in that her photographs visually quote from the history of European art, not commercial images.32 Importantly, I would add, they carry a sense of depth that is an always indicated, never revealed intimacy and expanse. Woodman’s abandoned house images are hauntingly real, even as they were entirely staged.33 Woodman went to abandoned spaces, moved in props, and photographed herself amid very carefully planned and constructed scenes. Meaghan Thurston has elegantly described Woodman’s photographic use of the body in domestic space.34 I have articulated this theme as Woodman’s relationship to architecture, to built space.35 In the House and Space2 photographs, Woodman’s body is the formal symbol that carries present time through the time-as-the-past space of the abandoned house (Figure 5.10 and 5.11). Here, the fate of the gendered subject is invoked through melancholy reflection. Photographs, as Barthes argues, are tied to time, and the eidos of the photograph is time, its passage, and its mortal light.36 Woodman’s photographs exemplify this photographic idea of the passage of time – the body’s vulnerability to time. They achieve this transformation by invoking gender with the young female body becoming in Woodman’s work the eloquent descriptor of fate: what happens no matter how hard we try not to let it happen. Here, I want to emphasize that I do not mean that Woodman takes photo- graphs of her actual fate; rather, I mean that her photographs exemplify that quality in photography that presents the past – any past – as if it were the only possible path. A sense of the inevitable attends Woodman’s images even as they protest that end. In this sense, they are rigorously honest images of gender as a force that often eludes the subject’s attempts to escape its domain. And yet precisely by showing this tight space of gender-as-fate, Woodman protests it and opens for her viewers possibilities of transcendence and transformation that are beyond restrictive codes of the gendered self and of the self as such.

Fig. 5.12 © Francesca Woodman, My House, Providence, Rhode Island, 1976, 53⁄4 ×55⁄8 in. Courtesy George and Betty Woodman.


Domain

With the disembodied and denaturalized fecundity of photography, Francesca Woodman’s series in abandoned houses is pensive in the sense that Barthes describes – the pensive image causes one to think because it cannot be easily read.37 Her black-and-white photographs from this era are typically very small prints; in this sense they seem private and demand concentrated, close-up viewing. For the House and Space2 series, Woodman comes to the abandoned house, that house where no housework has been done for years, and increases its disarray. She peels already peeling wallpaper further from walls, brings scavenged ruined objects into the house, and scatters plaster on the already dirty floors.38 She exaggerates – makes excessive – the melancholy of an abandoned house. Woodman undoes the cover of domesticity in the abandoned spaces she photographs, marking them as her own by performing the opposite of housework. Instead of hiding time’s marks, Woodman exaggerates time’s marks in abandoned spaces wherein time’s marks are already well shown. Having thus prepared the scenes, she takes her photographs. Instead of erasing the marks of time, Woodman causes those marks to pose, to hold still. Not erasing the mark of time as fate, Woodman slows it, stills it. In these two series, she poses the house at its ruinous edge where it will no longer offer safety to inhabitants but instead will show us our fragility, our need for cover, and the limits of that cover (Figures 5.10–5.12). The pose, as Barthes argues, is the essence of the photograph: a photographic image forces the physical and visible world to hold still.39 In her House and Space2 series and in the image My House, Woodman poses as the singular union of house- wife, housekeeper, and vestal daughter, whose insoluble grief, or rage, opens the disarray of the house to sight. More than simply a rebellion against the terms of femininity – although these photographs do act rebelliously – the pose of Woodman, the woman who freezes time rather than removes it, is not so much an anti-housewife as a repudiating claim on the house. Woodman instates a scene of pain at the origin: the ersatz familial house.

Woodman’s poses in the decrepit, abandoned domestic space play on well- established tropes of gender. The hearth, which traditionally suggests the vestal daughter, is central to some of the images. The diaphanous garments of torn paper, the Mary Jane shoes, and the plastic wrap used as clothing (Figures 5.10–5.12) all strike home by conveying concentric circles of gendered inscriptions. Woodman allows the garment of light to pose across her and across the rooms, in uncanny technique, poised between performance and the negation of performance. Her visual domain is the image that constitutes the edge of claim. In the photograph My House and in the House and Space2 series, the formal symbol of the daughter Woodman portrays returns to a house that cannot protect her from fate. Instead, this entirely photographic house can only perform fate.

Gender as fate

Ana Mendieta theorized and conceptualized her work’s relationship to gender, describing her earthworks as an attempt to connect with the womb of the earth,40 but Francesca Woodman did not write about feminism in a theorized way. Although seeming to agree with its tenets, Woodman apparently felt that feminism was not of much practical use.41 For Mendieta, the inscription of gender as fate came to appear overdetermined after her death: it seems that her husband, Carl Andre, may have caused her death.42 Even so, Mendieta’s fidelity to representing the female figure, in her Silueta Series and in several other performance pieces, creates a dialogue around the gendered figure that subverts notions of gender as costume and frames the seriousness (and pain) of gendered fate.43 In Woodman’s work, gender is played through and visually theorized: her art contemplates links among gender, fate, visuality, and photography. The risk of such work is that Woodman deploys this category of fate as an embodied force, a problem to solve visually in photographs that push the nude female figure to the edge. Woodman’s typical refusal to show the face of her photographed subject – many of her photographs are images of Woodman her- self – makes of the female body an iconic rather than a personal mark, not unlike Mendieta’s outlines of the feminine figure in her Siluetas (Figure 5.13). In this image, Woodman poses above the outline of her body traced in flour on the floor (Figure 5.13). In an ingenious combination of wry humor and pathos, she stages the body’s outline and its evanescence, even as she figurally envisions herself, nude but for her Mary Janes, in a chair looking down at what appears to be the mark of her own vanishing. The outline, here, evokes traditional police use of an outline to mark the fallen body of a victim, and yet Woodman’s very young and healthy living body perched above the outline not only visually skews the formal shape of the image but also symbolically alters the work to be not about vanishing or a desire to vanish but rather the intelligence and the will to stand apart – in ecstasy and enlightenment – and see the transience of one’s physical self. Her photographs work against acceptance of the fate of gender even as they mourn the way gender stakes its claim on the subject in advance of the subject’s efforts to reinscribe a self.


Whom do I haunt?

Going to abandoned houses, Francesca Woodman investigates the posture of the revenant. The houses haunt her, and through her photographs of abandoned domestic spaces, Woodman troubles us. Whereas Carol Armstrong argues that Woodman is a ghost in the house of the woman artist, and Katherine Conley locates Woodman as a surrealist ghost, I suggest that Woodman, no ghost, is intent on photographing the house of the visible and the relationship of time to this house.44 She uses her body as a symbol of the risk of both claiming and refusing to inhabit a house if the terms of this house degrade one. As stated by the title of her photograph My House, Woodman does not imagine herself inhabiting someone else’s house, but instead claims her own place: the house is hers. Her house is more expansive and far rougher than that of the polished grande dame.

Woodman’s House and Space2 photographs, however, do have a clear relation- ship to a precursor work of feminist art: Womanhouse.45 Woodman is likely to have been aware of California Institute of the Arts Feminist Art Program’s Womanhouse given the prominence of Judy Chicago and Miriam Shapiro, who spearheaded the performance and exhibition, and given Womanhouse’s near proximity in time to Woodman’s own work. The influence of Womanhouse is fateful in Woodman’s photographs. Like the creators of Womanhouse, Woodman seeks an abandoned house in which to create her work. But if Womanhouse is a kind of public protest art,Woodman takes a turn to the interior in her housework. Through the work of photo- graphing a house, Woodman creates the melancholy, private images of

material fate that is a form of return.

By performing for her own camera in an abandoned house, Woodman points to the damning cultural narrative that merges woman with house, that makes the house an imprimatur – as Barthes would define the word, a myth – of the cultural interpretation that a woman goes into a house to be somehow contained within it, that a woman’s relationship to a house is one of submission, even by dint of being protected, rather than of ownership.46 Instead, Woodman claims the house as her own and accepts the risks of its rough edge. Denying herself a comforting domestic, she reaches past protest to a kind of sublimity that is a rapprochement with self-denial. Beyond the abandoned house photographs, she shows the place of fate also by her use of doubling and the visual rhymes that make up the subtext of many of her photographs. The divided and echoed subject is both on the floor and standing above her double (Figure 5.13), and in other photographs the structural parallels between Woodman’s body and a bird wing, a fish skeleton, a taxidermy fox, and eels are played through in further structural parallels with the architecture that contains the woman’s body. This use of doubling, wherein the house that is falling apart is coded to stand with the woman who inhabits the house, poses photographic fate. The figure of the house’s inhabitant is marked by light, effaced by light, and preserved by light in the photograph’s persistence. She is the double of time: torn wallpaper is her garment, oversaturated with light, and then light is her garment, almost swallowing the figure (Figure 5.10).


Melancholy of photography

Barthes defines the punctum as the place in the photograph that marks the viewer, the place where the photograph establishes itself as part of the viewer’s fate, as it were specific to her.47 The punctum of photography then is its melancholy or, as Barthes writes, its “tyche,” the place where the reality of time touches the viewer. Working along similarly oblique lines, Jacques Derrida asks “Whom do I haunt?” as a constitutive question, going on to posit that those whom “I” haunt are those who are wounded, painfully or pleasurably, by me; I am formed by those whom I haunt.48 Conversely, those who haunt me are my fate. Francesca Woodman’s photographs in an abandoned house invoke her audience because the photographs show Woodman as one who is haunted by the visual terms of gender, implicated in the mortal gaze of the photograph: she is not a ghost in anyone’s house but instead a purveyor of the cultural force – through photographic images – of haunting. Woodman’s images employ and embody the melancholy of fate that is woman’s figural conscription at (and as) the site of this repetition of gender. Woodman’s photographs prick us with the fate of being gendered, released from that fate only if also cast out of the house.

The fatedness of gender is evident also in the way that Woodman’s abandoned house photographs show her staying in the house through the process of its desolation and destruction.49 To paraphrase Philippe Sollers, Francesca Woodman is more risked than anyone, at least in the visual lexicon of her photographs. Woodman’s photographs pose a melancholy effect of gender as repetition of fate, poised not at the boundary but in the boundary: her photographs stage transcendence as risk. Rather than confronting sexist oppression directly in the way of its predecessor Womanhouse, Woodman’s House and Space2 series perform as melancholy photography. They are images that say gender codes will not change in bright unity, but in the severe task of changing form, often in ulterior psychic spaces, and at personal risk. Woodman’s House and Space2 series come after the early 1970s performance space Womanhouse not just in time but in telos (or goal); her photographs aim to express the melancholy recognition that mutatis mutandis (despite changes, the main point stays the same); despite feminism, a woman whose art goes against the grain is a woman at risk.

In these images, Francesca Woodman is haunted by her precursors – the house of the woman artist was already filled with ghosts long before Woodman came on the scene.50 Woodman’s house shows a space where writing, reinscription, will not reach: the photograph as the space of fate cannot be rewritten, the photo- graph cannot be transformed once it is made. In its essence, a photograph cannot be transformed, only manipulated. (Consider photomontage and composite photography, and photoshop, not as transformative of the photographic image itself, however much they may be transformative for works of art.) But for just this reason Woodman’s photographs have the traction that opens to transformation. The uncanny and displaced positions that Woodman creates in her photographs speak to a kind of social violence entailed in a woman’s efforts to create a self, and they shape a haunted space wherein the young woman is engaged in an immense struggle with the house. The fate of the house is photographic image, that is, space swallowed by time. Although one may interpret Woodman’s use of blur in some of the House and Space photographs as importing ghostliness to the images, here blur articulates her struggle with her house – of inheritance, of future, of self-as- artist, and of the always enigmatic otherness of the figural in time (Figure 5.10). For Woodman, blur is necessary for this housework of alterity: she is fighting for her place in space and time, making a rough chrysalis of the abandoned house that she claims as her own.51


Francesca Woodman’s Zen

In Photography Degree Zero, Jay Prosser writes persuasively about the Buddhist strand in Barthes’s Camera Lucida, arguing that here, in his last book, Barthes the semiotician confronts or is forced to come up against the limits of words.52 Prosser emphasizes what he sees as the photograph’s connection to trauma, a connection that Prosser argues is inherent to Barthes’s theory of the photograph as memento mori. This trauma Prosser does not interpret along the lines of contemporary Western trauma theory but instead along the lines of Buddhist notions of the fleeting emptiness of the physical world, the illusion of stability that surrounds those things that occupy time and space.

Francesca Woodman’s images in an abandoned house and her Angels series of images occupy time and space with a visceral code of risk or pain. Critics have interpreted her photographs as containing her own trauma.53 And yet, no one can say with exact specificity what Woodman’s particular personal trauma might be, other than the eventuation of her act of committing suicide. Needless to say, she had not yet completed that act at the time she made her photographs: it was not a foregone conclusion to the images. To read Woodman’s images as messages of a personal history of trauma is to miss what photography can do. Woodman might have had a personally traumatic history; it is certainly possible that she did. And yet that does not matter to her photographs. Instead, their quality of what Barthes calls “thus-goneness” carries the ontological curve of the hollowing spatial real. Hollowness and lightness are the codes by which one might read both the images from Woodman’s photographs in an abandoned house and her Angels.

In the Angels, and related On Being an Angel, photographs, the body of the girl (who is Woodman) depicts a quality of near disembodiment, with the flourish at the edges of the body as detritus. If Prosser posits the unbearable loss of Barthes’s mother as the engine of Barthes’s need for photography to provide the path of death that words cannot provide, then Woodman creates images that provide the path of nullity for reasons that remain powerfully latent in the images. Instead of offering personal confession, the images are deeply informed by the privative code of the photographic as such. As Sloan Rankin suggests in her commentaries on Woodman’s history, when Woodman was making the photographs on which her reputation now rests, she was not depressed but healthy and even joyous.54 The slant and precarious beauty of the images expresses this delicate space of joy and recognizes the emptiness of the physical and temporal world not as a pathological state but as an enlightened state. Woodman was not a student of Zen in the sense of studying Buddhism, but her work exemplifies a careful and serious encounter with the ephemeral contours of embodiment, an encounter that Woodman repeatedly stages in photographs that repeat and exhaust embodiment.

In that Woodman’s reception history had a decidedly gendered slant, her work’s meditative intellectual energy has been somewhat overlooked, in favor of readings that contend with an assumption that some form of gendered pathology inspired her work.55 There are sharp and painful explorations of gender in her work – not just a nightmare of the feminine but also the illusion of objects in time and space is exposed in the delicate and frightening imagery of Woodman’s photographs. Importantly, Woodman titled photographs Space and Space2 (Providence, Rhode Island, 1975–1978), thus indicating that the images interact with space itself and render space in the flat plane of the photograph (Figure 5.11).

In House #3 (Figure 5.10), Woodman looks as if she had just crashed through the window. The fractured lines of light seem to emanate from the shoulders of the figure of the girl crouched beneath the windowsill. The blurred figure suggests not a ghostly figure but more directly a figure without weight, or one whose weight is of a different quality and force than we usually accord with the human body. The room seems to sway with a kind of wind, as if the figure of the girl, falling in, shaped the room into a hollow. Each echo of this hollow is articulated and embellished by the photograph’s implicit gestures of counter-comparison: the damaged wall, the fracture line of the wall, the overly bright (overexposed) light of the trees, the trees as fracture lines, the girl both overexposed and blurred (because of a long exposure time during which Woodman moved), and the floor covered with detritus as if the building were emptying itself. This ascesis is Woodman’s enlightenment, her coming to terms with the illusory nature of the physical world by photographing its limits, photographing the places where home is not, in fact, home and cannot protect or sustain us. Similarly, Woodman’s Angels (Rome, Italy, 1977) questions the boundary of flesh and illusion and of the unseen seen. In the image from an abandoned factory in Rome, Woodman seems to be trying to levitate, but the fey joke of the image is the impossibility of flight for the body in gravity. And yet this picture also abounds with the pun of the illusion of materiality, the present absence of the body as it attempts, comically, to transcend gravity to gain control of its own illusory field. The place where it happens is marked by the photograph as a wound of time. The nubile body half-stripped tries to jump out of its skin, out of its social position, or, more straightforwardly, out of its materiality and its illusory secured place in space and time.

The photograph as illusion that leads to truth, the way of the dead, is particularly relevant to Woodman’s Angels. She creates the most obvious and banal illusion, the image of the angel in a postlapsarian space, and infuses it with awareness of its falsity that becomes exemplification of its truth. The camera opens the path of the dead through its proscenium function, its ability to create a stage. The stage she uses is carefully set and also vacuous, inhabited by a problematic shift of gravity. In an image from the Angels, the gravity of partial nudity marks the angelic body that tries to lift itself above earth in a partial escape. The action is echoed by the clumsy wing-like sheets draped above the jumping figure, toward which the figure gestures. The young girl’s partial nudity, her thin arms, and her long hair that attempt to reach the sky signify in graphic detail the impossibility of flight, but the photograph as the path of the dead signifies its own domain here, as Woodman stages the facing of the immaterial through the material and stages the invisible through the visible. The angle of the shot forces us to look up through the impossibility of her path, through the narrow gauge of light that is the impossible domain of her trajectory. The photograph becomes the way of the dead not because Woodman has a death wish but because she is true to the medium of photography. She is true to photog- raphy’s capacity not to stop time but to show the fractionary gait of time, the mortal divisions of depth that imbricate the body in time that is almost light.

Figure 5.14 Francesca Woodman, From Polka Dots, Providence, Rhode Island, 1976,gelatin silver print, 51⁄8 × 51⁄8 in. Courtesy George and Betty Woodman


Polka dot oneiric

The camera-produced image, the photograph, may not invite or even permit the viewer’s act of imagination, argues Jean Baudrillard: the hyperreal instead stays above the mortal and dreaming world, a kind of final, fatal Platonic form that forces out the negotiations of thought.56 Here Baudrillard extends, perhaps, Theodor Adorno’s thesis that diabolical popular culture actively deprives the proletariat of the space of dreams, imagination, and aesthetic force.57 Woodman’s series of near-self-portraits oscillate between popular culture – a cult following of a sort – and fine art – they have been displayed at the Tate Modern in London, the Guggenheim Museum in San Francisco and in New York City, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Most attempts to explain the power of her images come up short – we venerate the cult of the dead girl, or we see her links to surrealism, and maybe her inchoate feminism, but cannot explain why any of that matters. And yet, I think another way to read the power of Woodman’s photographs – perhaps an eccentric reading but one not antithetical to my earlier readings of her work as contending with the Kantian sublime – is by tracing the force of the oneiric as it pulses through the images’ striking constellations of the nude female body, damaged architecture, and frames of violence implicit and obscure.58 The shapes of things as they emerge in understanding rather than in fact form the visual game of some of Woodman’s images.

Consider the photograph Polka Dots (Figure 5.14), one of the two images chosen for the poster of the popular culture film The Woodmans.59 The image from Polka Dots pulls the eye to multiple fractionary darknesses in the frame: the polka dots, the damaged walls pitted with dark marks and gaps, the girl’s eyes, and most saliently the girl’s body, which is shown as a shadow beneath and within her partly opened dress. As if she were showing a wound, or the way the body is a site of wounding, and as if she were her own doubting Thomas, Woodman places – and invites the viewer to place – a hand in the wound of the open dress. This wound is the weighted gape manifest not as the female body but rather as the mortal body overwritten by gendered codes of fragility. The girl in the picture looks not only vulnerable but also terrifying, as if crouched to take flight, her crouched form echoing the large black spot on the wall above her, with its wing-like irregularities. The image invites us deeper inward, even as the form – the photograph – is the essence of surface, the definitive superficial. As Baudrillard argues, the photograph is a realm without depth, or as Woodman put it, the photographic image is flattened to fit paper. This play on the premise of depth in the visual scape of superficiality arrests the image and traps it in its own performance. This entrapment is much as we experience dreams as a concatenation of images and symbols that are so com- pressed, or pressed together, as to impress us with a sense of the impossibility of resolving them into translatable meaning. This tractive quality of resisting translation makes some of Woodman’s photographs almost inexplicably powerful. That is, given her social place – a privileged child whose subject matter can superficially appear to be meditation on the end or edge of childhood’s privilege – we might not expect the images to carry such heft. But they do carry a disturbing and penetrating force: training a gaze looking always into rooms whose inaccessibility manifests as cognate with the limits of language, Woodman’s photographs force their claim to inhabit and sustain an untranslatable visual realm.

But are Woodman’s photographic images evil demons in the Baudrillardian sense? Woodman’s photographs do not negate the imaginary; rather, they propel the imaginary so far forward as to compel our acceptance of the blank space around the photograph, that is, compel us to reach and see the end of the photograph, what Barthes calls its blind field.60 In the same way that Agamben shows that the poem is always about its own ending, so also Woodman’s most accomplished photographs tell us to look away.61

In the Polka Dots (Figure 5.14) photograph, Woodman’s thumb is in her mouth, partly a play on infantile regression but also a literal play on words: the thumb sup- pressing speech forces us to look to the open dress, with its wound-like turn of flesh. Language moves from words to code, here, from the words the thumb sup- presses in the mouth to the code of geometrically regressive interiority by which the image stakes its claim. This interiority is not manifestly sexual but rather onto- logical, an interiority of the wound of the eye, the wound of the embodied gaze. The palpable metaphor for the eye here is the polka dots themselves.

The wound that is the eye, the image tells us, grants and also is risked by the force of sight, the room we do not choose to inhabit is the room we most clearly see. As in dreams, we inhabit not the spaces of the demonic but spaces of force when we look at Woodman’s more successful images. Whereas one could interpret this “eye” along Georges Bataille’s sexualized terms, the challenge in reading Wood- man’s photography is that to see the force of the images is to divest oneself of the pathologizing gaze of looking at Woodman as the troubled teen, a bad or crazed girl.62 It is harder but more tallied to the images to see in Woodman’s best photo- graphs the tension of the forms’ harness of mortal time and fate as space, the body as space in space, an easeless and terrifying emergence.

Notes

  1. See Olga M.Viso, Ana Mendieta: Earth Body (Berlin: Hatje Cantz, 2004) and Olga M.Viso, Unseen Mendieta:The Unpublished Works of Ana Mendieta (London: Prestel, 2008); see also Claire Raymond, Francesca Woodman and the Kantian Sublime (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2010).
  2. See Elisabeth Bronfen, Over Her Dead Body: Death, Femininity, and the Aesthetic (Manches- ter, UK: Manchester University Press, 1992); see also Claire Raymond, The Posthumous Voice in Women’s Writing (Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2006) and Debra Ferrday, “A Waif ’s Progress: Kate Moss and the Feminine Uncanny,” Feminist Media Studies 14, no. 5 (2014): 791–805.
  3. Jane Simon,“An Intimate Mode of Looking: Francesca Woodman’s Photographs,” Emo- tion, Space and Society 3, no. 1 (2010): 28–35.
  4. Carolee Schneeman, “Regarding Ana Mendieta,” Women and Performance: A Journal of Feminist Theory 21, no. 2 (July 2011): 183–90.
  5. Judy Chicago’s Menstruation Bathroom in the performance and exhibition Womanhouse (1972) and her better-known work The Dinner Party (1979) illustrate a rather direct and graphic invocation of the female body, as was popular in the era’s feminist art practices.
  6. The photographs that speak to the visual concept of the angelic include On Being an Angel (1976), From Angel series (1977), From a series on Angels (1977), and Angels (1977– 78). See Del Valle-Cordero, “Ana Mendieta: Performance in the Way of the Primitive,” Arte Individua y Sociedad 26, no. 1 (2014): 67–82; see also Anca Cristofovici,“Performing Corpo-Realities,” Consciousness, Literature and the Arts 19 ( January 2009): 157–91.
  7. By using the term “haunting,” I do not mean that Mendieta and Woodman invoke the spectral, the shadowy, the insubstantial; there are important differences between haunt- ing, which implies power and the return of the oppressed, and spectrality, which suggests ethereality. On this argument, see Avery Gordon, Ghostly Matters (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1999). That said, many scholars who write on Wood- man describe her as a ghost: see Prema Purigali Prabhakar,“Invoking the Spectral Body: A Study of Potential Corporealities in the Work of Marina Abramovic and Francesca Woodman,” Excursions 1, no. 1 (2010): 91–101; and see also Katharine Conley, Surrealist Ghostliness (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2013).
  8. Clara Escoda Agusti, “‘I Carve Myself into My Hands: The Body Experienced from Within in Ana Mendieta’s Work and Migdalia Cruz’s ‘Miriam Flowers,’” Hispanic Review 75, no. 3 (Summer 2007): 289–311.
  9. Any consideration of Ana Mendieta’s work should begin with Olga M.Viso’s incompa- rable studies of the artist. Please see Viso, Ana Mendieta: Earth Body.
  10. See Viso, Unseen Mendieta.
  11. Claire Raymond, “Roland Barthes, Ana Mendieta, and the Orphaned Image,” The Con- versant: Interview Projects, Talk Poetry, Embodied Inquiry, September, 2014, http://theconver sant.org/?p=7854.
  12. Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography (New York: Macmillan, 1981), 6.
  13. Before her death, Mendieta received the Prix de Rome and was a respected artist. See Joyce Wadler, “A Death in Art,” New York, December 16, 1985, 38.
  14. Cuban American artist Coco Fusco included Ana Mendieta in her brilliant performance installation BetterYetWhen Dead at the Festival Internacional de Arte de Medellin in Colombia in 1997, which commented on Mendieta’s ascension in the art world after her death.
  15. Jane Blocker, Where Is Ana Mendieta? (Durham, NC: Duke University Press 1999).
  16. 16 Ibid., 52–53.
  17. Silueta Series, performance photographed in a series of 35 mm color slides, 1976.
  18. Stephanie Rosenthal, Adrian Heathfield, and Julia Bryan-Wilson, Ana Mendieta: Traces (London: Hayward Publishing, 2013).
  19. Commenting on her own work, Mendieta stated: “I have been carrying out a dialogue between the landscape and the female body I believe this has been a direct result of my having been torn from [Cuba]. My art is the way I re-establish the bonds that unite me to the universe. It is a return to the maternal source. Through my earth/body sculptures I become one with the earth. I become an extension of nature and nature becomes an extension of my body. This obsessive act of reasserting my ties with the earth is really the reactivation of primaeval beliefs  [in] an omnipresent female force, the after-image of being encompassed within the womb.” See Petra Barreras del Rio and John Perreault, Ana Mendieta: A Retrospective (New York: New Museum of Contempo- rary Art, 1988), 10.
  20. Although Mendieta made a hundred silhouettes, she took thousands of slides archiving them. See Susan Best,“The Serial Spaces of Ana Mendieta,” Art History 30, no. 1 (Febru- ary 2007): 57–82.
  21. Ann Gabhart, ed., Francesca Woodman: Photographic Work (Wellesley, MA:Wellesley College Museum/Hunter College Art Gallery, 1989).
  22. Hervé Chandès, ed., Francesca Woodman (Zurich: Scalo, 1998).
  23. Chris Townsend, Francesca Woodman (London: Phaidon, 2006).
  24. Claire Raymond, Francesca Woodman and the Kantian Sublime (Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2010).
  25. Corey Keller, Julia Bryan-Wilson, and Jennifer Blessing, Francesca Woodman (San Fran- cisco, CA: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 2013).
  26. Woodman also exhibited at the Sammlung Verbund Gallery, in 2014. See Betsey Berne, Gabriele Schor, and Elisabeth Bronfen, eds., Francesca Woodman:Works from the Sammlung Verbund (Kologne:Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther Koenig and New York, New York: Distributed Arts Publishers, 2014).
  27. Carol Armstrong, “Francesca Woodman: A Ghost in the House,” in Women Artists at the Millennium, ed. Catherine de Zegher and Carol Armstrong (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2006), 351.
  28. Barthes, Camera Lucida, 93–4.
  29. On Woodman’s Blueprint for a Temple and other diazotypes, see Claire Raymond, Francesca Woodman’s Dark Gaze (London: Routledge, 2016); see also Harriet Riches, “Projecting Touch: Francesca Woodman’s Late ‘Blueprints,’” Photographies 5, no. 2 (2012): 135–57.
  30. Butler, Gender Trouble (London: Routledge, 1990) 129–49.
  31. Townsend, Francesca Woodman.
  32. Ibid.
  33. Elisabeth Bronfen, “Leaving an Imprint: Francesca Woodman’s Photographic Tableaux Vivants,” in Francesca Woodman:Works from the Sammlung Verbund, ed. Betsey Berne, Gabri- ele Schor, and Elisabeth Bronfen (Kologne, Germany:Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther Koenig and New York: Distributed Arts Publishers, 2014), 11–30.
  34. Meaghan Thurston,“‘At Home in Dust’: Francesca Woodman’s House Series, Revisited,” FORUM: University of Edinburgh Postgraduate Journal of Culture and the Arts 11 (Autumn 2010): 2–13.
  35. Raymond, Woodman and the Kantian Sublime.
  36. Barthes, Camera Lucida15.
  37. Ibid., 74.
  38. Sloane Rankin, “Peach Mumble – Ideas Cooking,” in Francesca Woodman, ed. Hervé Chandès (Zurich: Scalo, 1998): 34–35.
  39. Barthes, Camera Lucida, 31.
  40. Blocker, Where Is Ana Mendieta?
  41. Woodman’s spoken opinion on feminism was ambivalent, and this ambiguity is vis- ible in her works. See Berne, Schor, and Bronfen, Francesca Woodman. See also Elisabete Lopes, “Francesca Woodman’s Journey into the Gothic Wonderland,” in Women and the Arts: Dialogues in Female Creativity, ed. Diana V. Almeida (Bern, Switzerland: Peter Lang, 2013), 71–84. See also Peggy Phelan, “Francesca Woodman’s Photography: Death and the Image One More Time,” Signs: A Journal of Women in Culture and Society 27, no. 4 (Summer 2002): 979–1004; and see also, Harriet Riches,“A Disappearing Act: Francesca Woodman’s Portrait of a Reputations,” Oxford Art Journal 27, no. 1 (2004): 95–113.
  42. Whether Andre killed Mendieta or whether she accidentally fell during an argument is a question that only Andre can answer. He was twice tried, and twice acquitted, of her murder. See Vincent Patrick,“A Death in the Art World,” New York Times, June 10, 1990.
  43. Mendieta photographed all of the Silueta Series images in which she did not appear, which means that she was the photographer for almost the whole series. Other people photographed the performance works in which she did physically appear. For this reason, I limit myself to discussing her Silueta Series.
  44. Armstrong, “Francesca Woodman: A Ghost in the House”; see also Conley, Surrealist Ghostliness.
  45. See Johanna Demetrakas’s documentary film Womanhouse, 1974, www.wmm.com/film catalog/pages/c324.shtml. See also http://womanhouse.net.
  46. Roland Barthes, Mythologies, trans. Annette Lavers (New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1972).
  47. Barthes, Camera Lucida, 79.
  48. Jacques Derrida, Specters of Marx (London: Routledge, 2006), 132.
  49. Woodman created the abandoned house images in Providence, Rhode Island, while a student at RISD, photographing in abandoned spaces, implicitly those buildings ignored by the government. Providence was later the scene of one of the largest class-action lawsuits for lead poisoning of young children in substandard housing. See Jenna Ber- man,“Rhode Island’s Childhood Lead Poisoning Crisis Remains Painted Thickly on the Wall after State v. Lead Industries Association,” Villanova Environmental Law Journal 20, no. 2 (2009): 217.
  50. Avery Gordon describes ways that the social figure of the ghost encodes her own process of being haunted by cultural terms of violence and silencing. See Gordon, Ghostly Mat- ters: Haunting and the Sociological Imagination (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1999), 140–1.
  51. I developed the next two sections of this chapter, “Francesca Woodman’s Zen” and “Polka Dot Oneiric,” from blog posts that originally appeared on my website, www. claireraymond.org.
  52. Jay Prosser, “Buddha Barthes: What Barthes Saw in Photography (That He Didn’t in Literature),” in Photography Degree Zero: Reflections on Roland Barthes’s Camera Lucida, ed. Geoffrey Batchen (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2009), 91–105.
  53. While there is significant nuance in the way that different theorists approach and inter- pret the question of Francesca Woodman’s state of mental health – and I regret very much that there is not the space in this chapter to offer detailed readings and interpreta- tions of these various theorists, all very valuable in what they bring to discussion of her work – my point is simply that the very fact of Woodman’s mental health being empha- sized in scholarship arguably can have the effect of pulling attention away from the pho- tographic work. See Phelan, “Francesca Woodman’s Photography: Death and the Image One More Time”; Adele Tutter, “Metamorphosis and the Aesthetics of Loss: II. Lady of the Woods – the Transformative Lens of Francesca Woodman,” International Journal of Psychoanalysis 92, no. 6 (December 2011): 1517–39; see also Anna C. Chave,“Normal Ills: On Embodiment,Victimization and the Origins of Feminist Art,” in Trauma and Visuality in Modernity, ed. Lisa Saltzman and Eric Rosenberg (Hanover, NH: Dartmouth College Press, 2006), 138.
  54. Scott Willis, The Woodmans, C. Scott Films, 2011.
  55. Phelan, “Francesca Woodman’s Photography: Death and the Image One More Time.” See also Jui Ch’i Lui, “Woodman’s Self Images: Transforming Bodies in the Space of Femininity,” Woman’s Art Journal 25 (Spring–Summer 2004): 26–31; Tutter, “Metamor- phosis and the Aesthetics of Loss: II”; Amy Sherlock, “Multiple Exposures: Identity and Alterity in the ‘Self-Portraits’ of Francesca Woodman,” Paragraph 36, no. 3 (Novem- ber 2013): 376–91.
  56. Jean Baudrillard, Simulations and Simulacra, trans. Sheila Glaser (Ann Arbor, MI: Michigan University Press, 1994).
  57. Theodor Adorno,“The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception,” in Dialectic of Enlightenment, ed. Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno (Redwood City, CA: Stan- ford University Press, 2002): 94–137.
  58. Raymond, Francesca Woodman and the Kantian Sublime.
  59. Willis, The Woodmans.
  60. Barthes, Camera Lucida, 57.
  61. Giorgio Agamben, The End of the Poem: Studies in Poetics (Redwood City, CA: Stanford University Press, 1999).
  62. Georges Bataille, Story of the Eye, trans. Joachim Neugroschal (London: Penguin Modern Classics, 2001).

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