Francesca WoodmanDepth of field, Providence, Rhode Island (1975-8)

Woodman first appeared on my radar in either late 2005 or early 2006.

Her Wikipedia entry was much sparser then–not that it’s anything to write home about now; however, it did have one fantastic feature: there was a ridiculously chronological index of approximately 120 of her photos. (At that point it was the most comprehensive collection of her work–essentially, every photo uploaded to the Internet was centrally linked.)

Dribs and drabs of additional work would emerge as new exhibitions went up. And the spate of new and/or updated monographs in the late aughts introduced even more work.

That shifted noticeable with her 2012 Guggenheim retrospective in NYC–which if memory serves consisted of 20% new/rare photographs.

The Guggenhein show was staged more or less chronologically. Beginning with the early work–culminating in her Swan Song series; before interjecting the work she made while studying in Italy for a year (which was housed in a passage and adjacent niche), followed by the ‘failed’ fashion photographic efforts and then looping back into the first room where there was work from her time at the MacDowell artist colony.

This layout was simplistic but with the simplification driven by cleverness not torpor–allowing her work to demonstrate itself as always of exceptional quality but arranged in such a way that her incandescent genius becomes all that much more apparently as she slowly begins to fire on all cylinders. (If nothing else a strict chronological view of the work shares with the viewer a sense of hard work finally paying off when you consider a photo like the one of her as her alter ego Sloan side-by-side with other work from the same period. She was getting better, saw she was getting better and derived confidence from the awareness.)

The narrative of her trajectory has always been that she peaked during her year abroad and never quite managed to reach such Olympian heights ever again. The notion that her fashion experiments were a failure dovetails nicely with this theory.

Still, it’s always bothered me that one of my favorite photos she ever made emerges from the same period as the fashion ‘failures’–namely, this self-portrait with a wasp on her neck.

Over the last 18 months, I’ve noticed a deluge of work I’ve previously never seen emerging. (The above is an example of such.) There’s no enough of it that I am beginning to question the endurance of the narrative that she was very good but also immature, undisciplined and very lucky.

There’s a couple of things you have to keep in mind here: first, the photos that until recently have been understood as her overarching body of work were ones she exhibited during her life. The subsequent work that’s emerged has been released into the world by her parents. (This has led to issues where there exist an original print or two she made herself vs work that he father has reprinted–the latter tend to present a more dynamic range of tones, whereas hers skew much darker, as a rule.)

The notion that the fashion work was a complete failure is something I think the newly released work calls sharply into question. I won’t argue that a lot of it is bad. There’s enough of it that is at least stubbornly iconoclastic that suggests something further at work here.

Increasingly, I think that what gets interpreted as failure was merely an effort to play the can I be an artist in mid-to-late capitalism and not starve. My impression is that Woodman was attempting to fit her style and preoccupations to what she understood as the framework high fashion sought. When, really, the other way round was the way she should’ve approached it. (A more concrete way of putting it might be to suggest that whereas her early work were about self-expression, the later work is an effort to invert the ploy of inventing an alter ego like Sloan (to allow herself to explore–representation at some degree of remove) and instead wanted to filter her work in such a way that she would be perceived as belonging on the fashion scene. It didn’t work because too much of who she was involved independence and a commitment to non-conformity.

As bad as some of the fashion stuff, it is not all bad and she continued to make exceptional work–or that’s what the emerging work suggests to me. It’s almost as if the darker her vision became the more increasingly universal the reaction to and response to her work.

Weronika IzdebskaF1020013 (2014)

I’ve always wondered why certain historical epochs contribute more than their far share of stunning Art: the Italian Renaissance, Holland during the Dutch Golden Age; Hong Kong cinema circa the early 1990s; The Romanian New Wave for roughly the last decade.

As far as photography and image making go, I can’t think of a single place in the world that is killing it like Poland.  [I actually have about a dozen pages of notes for an essay on the politics of visual representation and identity in the work of contemporary women making photographs in Poland–that’s how rich the landscape is at present.]

Izdebska work belongs to this milieu.

The image above is in one way uncharacteristic of most of her images: she usually employs a rigorously centered symmetry and then places those she shoots strategically off balance in the frame, conferring an oneiric feel to the scenes that’s straight out of mid-to-late Soviet cinema–here the camera is not square with the building; note the askew verticals compared to the frame edge as well as the lower boundary between the paneling and concrete.

It’s a small annoyance given the overall quality of the image. The limiting of the color palate is sublime and the tone that shimmers in the margin between dream and nightmare.

Also, there’s more than a casual similarity to Wynn Bullock’s famous Woman and Thistle.

(In the interest of full disclosure–I probably should admit that it’s difficult for me to be completely impartial when it comes to other image makers who are also similarly transfixed with the Icelandic landscape.)

Loreal PrystajUntitled from Byrdcliffe series (2014)

There’s a fucking shit ton of image makers producing work with a sort of super high contrast, post-urban decay nightmarish feel.

Unfortunately, as appealing as any one of those facets are in and of themselves, taken together they almost always signify shitty work attempting to glorify style over content.

Prystaj appears to have discovered a means of making what should be an archetypal aesthetic and fuses it with a rigorously formal approach to composition.

Consider the above: the position of the subject is utterly perfect–curves balanced against the rectilinearity of the room and an awareness of the weight and ghost-like forms of shadow and light.

Normally, I’d be inclined to dock points for the 2-3 degree up tilt of the camera. A lesser image maker would’ve down this as a new jerk way of goosing the viewer into attributing a greater dynamic fluidity to the upward stretch/downward pull of the model. However, note how the tilt actually pulls additional angular symmetry between the light pouring into the room via the doorway and windows, the angle of the open door and most importantly the way the spill bouncing off the curtains and rising up towards the unseen ceiling echoes the angle of the falling direct light.

toutdroitaller:

Mathilda Eberhard

Untitled

Is it me or is there something almost post-coital about the way this feels to the eye—towel-wrapped, shower-wet hair and still damp skin sheathed in afterglow and diaphanous light?

In spite of being digital, I wish this were an image I had made. It exemplifies so many imagistic attributes I hold dear:·       

  • It eschews the forced intimacy of knee-jerk close-ups    
  • Employs a scale fixed somewhere betwixt Wall’s voyeuristic medium shots and Angelopoulos’ telescopic long shots in order to offer the viewer a wealth of contextual information.
  • A visually compelling interior is presented so as to avoid the trappings of perfect production design. (Tarkovsky is as close to having a deity as I come, but I’m perpetually frustrated by his über-eclectic, pristinely cluttered sets with no room for real people to live)
  • It features a beautiful young nude woman with exquisite, tiny breasts and pubic hair.

All that is missing is a narrative seed, one moment suggesting what came before and what follows. But this is more of a tone poem, it would seem.

Tone poems, though, are slippery as eel skin. And there is a tendency to use them as an excuse for untouched inconsistencies.

For example, the framing here pans the camera slightly right to ensure the golden light on her back appears reflected in the mirror; this wawker-jawing complicated by the extreme wide angle is nearly balanced out by the uneven curtain rod’s counter-angle—keyword: nearly.

Also, her pose is odd. It is clearly staged but she holds it in such an unself-conscious way that it from avoids appearing contrived.

These inconsistencies cut both ways: justifying the unresolved aspects as endemic to the work is what makes it great; it is also what keeps it from being truly exceptional due to such justification obfuscating the implicit awareness the image provides of viewing something up to a terminal point—the snapping of the shutter—and then being left with little except the technical inconsistencies to ponder for clues that simply don’t exist.