Photography by Francesca Woodman (1958-1981), influential American photographer.
Francesca Woodman’s iconic oeuvre includes staged artful self-portraits exploring the relationship between body and space and aspects of identity, featuring her often nude or semi-nude body either in motion, fragmented, collapsed or disguised, like a ghostly, elusive presence in a seemingly abandoned domestic space. The uncanny mise-en-scene includes disintegrating decor and collapsing structures, contributing to the atmosphere of alienation and desolation. The haunting cinematic portraits evoke a sense of remoteness, but also timelessness, whilst alluding to the fluidity of self-image, sexuality, the subject-object dichotomy, and the ambiguity of existence and identity- also emphasised by the blur effect achieved by slow shutter speed. The choice of black and white photographs and a fashion style characteristic of previous eras further emphasises the uncanny atemporality. Whilst her photographs reveal a tendency towards and concern with neuroticism and self-dramatisation, her parents emphasise that art critics tend to infuse her work with underlying political and feminist themes whilst missing her playfulness, humour, and irony- perhaps more transparent in other less-known photographs. The mythologisation of her artistic identity might partially be influenced by her tragic suicide at the age of 22, at the end of a depressive episode.
Corey Keller, a curator of photography at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, mentions: “Art students are drawn to the conviction she brought to her work and, in contrast to the cool slickness of the digital, it embraces tactility and decay in a very sensual and seductive way.”
Fascinated by the mysterious quality of the colour photographs of William Eggleston, a 20 year-old Alex Prager decided to buy a professional camera and dark room equipment in order to express herself creatively through images, in her quest for existential meaning. 18 years later, currently on show at the Photographers’ Gallery in London, the Silver Lake Drive exhibition represents a mid-career examination of her distinctive photographic and filmic work.
The internationally-acclaimed images of crowds, staged by the artist, portray a sense of emptiness and disconnection underneath the polished façade of active, compact crowds. It can be seen as a subtle commentary on the continuous, superficial interconnectedness that disguises individual alienation: everyone is self-preoccupied and follows their own narrative. There is an intertwining line between the public and the private- groups of people finding themselves in the same space, unaware of or uninterested in the silent stories hidden in the others’ eyes and in their conflicting facial expressions.
Often shot from above, from voyeuristic angles, Alex Prager’s still photographs always have a cinematic quality: they seem to be frozen film stills, presenting a fragment of a greater narrative; which is the main reason the self-taught artist decided to create short films conveying the ‘before’ and the ‘after’ moments surrounding the photographs. Through the cinematic perfection of her still images, the ordinary situations depicted become compelling: the staged details in deep focus, the strange lighting, the highly stylised and saturated aesthetic, all render the reality of her world in a glamourous and glossy way. However, despite the hyper-real and sometimes eerily perfect nature of the pictures, the essence of this world lies in the portrayal of a disturbing emotion, hence there is always a sense of authenticity beyond the artificial fictive layer.
The focus on emotion has been acknowledged by the artist and made particularly obvious in her short film, Despair. This early piece adopts characteristics of her general cinematic sources of inspiration, including Hollywood melodrama, silent movies, film noir, art house cinema, as well as Hitchcock and Lynch. The atmosphere dictating her work is ominous, as if tragedy always lurks around the corner – an idea reinforced by the recurrent theme of the vanishing woman, which can also be found in her more recent film shot in Paris, La Grande Sortie.