Stephan BrigidiFrancesca Woodman contact sheets (1978)

Despite the absence of her characteristic compositional asymmetry and murky mid-tones, these are frequently attributed to Woodman instead of Brigidi.

(I only sourced them because it seemed odd–given my familiarity with Woodman’s oeuvre–that I had no recollection whatsoever of these contacts.)

If nothing, the instinct to impose false attribution is not entirely misguided. After all, the prevailing art historical framing holds Woodman as the progenitor of the current surfeit of confessional self-portraiture.

This conceit has always frustrated me. First, Self portrait at thirteen demonstrates a more comprehensive grasp of photography as Art than 95% of the legacy claimers.

Second, the rule every seventh grade literature student leans the writer and the narrator aren’t necessarily the same individual is ignored.

To my mind, there’s a reason only one of her images explicitly bears the ‘self-portrait’ designation: Woodman only documented herself in the strictest sense. Really, it was more that hue was playing a character in a single frame film.

This is made clearest with her flirtation with an alter ego, Sloan, resemblances to Lewis Carroll’s Alice and her On Becoming an Angel series.

My feeling has always been that Woodman’s images are much closer to a sort of alchemical fiction–being by way of photography a means of becoming. As if all the identities in the world are dresses hung in a wardrobe and image making offered a mode of trying them all on one-by-one to see which ones fit, which ones pinched and which ones did little more than hang like limp sails in horse latitude doldrums.

On top of that, there is a sort of underlying menace to her experiments. Whenever I look at her images, I have a feeling similar to someone I care about showing me scars from self-harm. To an extent, I think photography served as an externalizing stand in for cutting–at least initially, at least through her arrival in Rome; at which point her flirtations with magical realism shifting toward a darker obsession with potential to harness the interplay of light, shadows and skin in the conjuring of malevolent maledictions.

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