Skin surface and subjectivity : the self-representational photography of Frances Woodman
This thesis examines Francesca Woodman's self-representational photography, not as a project of self-portraiture, but a means of exploring the relationship between self and objectified image through a re-staging of the drama of the photographic medium's process on her own skin. I re-situate Woodman's work within 1970s art practice by examining her relationship to performance, body art and photography, in order to disrupt the strictures of existing psycho-biographical interpretations. I also address the ways in which Woodman stages photographic dialogues with a diversity of historical precedents, from photographic contemporaries of the period, from the nineteenth-century, Surrealist photography, and from American modernist practice. The first chapter concentrates on Woodman's best known photographs, addressing the problems of the existing literature, and how in this series Woodman uses the technique of blurring to make reference to archaic photographic practice, as a haunting of the medium staged through an artful `stretching' of the print's surface and temporal fabric. The second chapter considers Woodman's description of `skin' in her photography, and the ways in which she performs a subject in the process of formation or breakdown. The third chapter concentrates on Woodman's reconfiguration of the photographic `crop' as she re-situates the process in the moment of framing, excising her own face and subjectivity in a kind of `self-cutting' which dramatises the medium's own language of implicit violence. The fourth chapter discusses an unpublished artist's book, in which Woodman's own skin is the support for a sequential act of disappearance. By re-enacting the photographic moment of the negative, the series alludes to the process of self-absenting on which representation depends. The final chapter examines Woodman's use of masking and repetition to re-enact within the single shot the photograph's status as copy, and the ways in which the imaged subject is always split and doubled in representation.