Syntax Issue 10
Denver Syntax

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Typically, this is where stories end: On January 19, 1981 Francesca Woodman jumped out of a loft window in New York City. Somebody close to Woodman’s wrote, "things had been bad, there had been therapy, things had gotten better, guard had been let down."

For me, this is where the story began.

While one doesn’t necessarily want to define a person’s life by their death, there is something about the reciprocal reflection of life in death. In life. Or, in death.

For me, Francesca Woodman is a beautiful representation of this alchemy.

Like so many of her photographs, Woodman’s ghostly presence was fleeting. She was only 22 years old when she died. If Francesca Woodman were alive today she would only be 50 years old. She was born in Denver, raised in Boulder. She attended school in Rhode Island, lived in Italy. And finally, died in New York City, in the East Village, in 1981.

I remember finding Woodman’s work. I remember the initial spooky sensation that ran over me as though I were naked. I remember subsequently learning she was from Denver. And then, that she died when I was only six years old. I remember the heat in my eyes. The wrenching behind my sternum…

With my only clue as her body of work, I have deeply wondered who she must have been. What her life felt like in those Colorado days. Those last days in the East Village. I want to sit across from her as one who too has stood before those windows overhanging the city, and ask her what drove her to take that leap; those final steps that I have never been able to take.

Because it’s somewhere in there, in those final steps that I’ve never taken – where I feel Woodman’s work. It’s those steps that we all know so well, but never have truly felt.

I believe that we can find some of these reasons and explanations in Woodman’s work – a body which still exhibits internationally to this day. In her work, there is a clear power, even with the disguises and long exposures – power that began resonating when she was so much younger. One of my favorite pieces of her is enclosed here, taken when she was only thirteen. Her face is hidden, turned away…

In all reality, I do not know much about art history. I have not deconstructed the people and theories before, during and after Woodman’s life. For me, great art isn’t predicated much on this idea of education. For me, in looking at Woodman’s work – you can see many things. One of those is the simple idea that, in life or in death, there is a little bit of Francesca Woodman in all of us.

Most of her available work (10,000 negatives of which her parents still own; Woodman’s estate consists of 800 prints and is represented by the Marian Goodman Gallery in New York) are self-portraits. Done in the manner they are, her work speaks to the idea of trying to solidify her being via the grandest of photography’s virtues: by capturing a moment, a time. More than this, I believe that, like all of us – Woodman was in-search of herself and photography provided a means to explore that self.

Certainly this a laymen’s interpretation. And certainly, it’s simple. But then again, this interpretation is also about the human condition. About what makes us whole and how we go about trying to nail-down our ghostly apparitions.

I believe that when you charge life as a raw nerve, explicitly seeking and producing work – madness follows. As a writer, you are always represented by your work. As a musician, you affect sound, leave a little bit of yourself everywhere you’ve been in the world. But shooting photographs of one’s self for all of your adolescence, in that fragile period where the self seeks validation and concretization – this may have been Woodman’s grand blessing, and supreme curse.

Francesca Woodman reminds me that this world is much larger than I believe on a daily basis. For Woodman is a native of my land, my home and it took me this long to find her. I had never heard her name before, nor seen it, and still today – people exclaim her name when they hear it. As though it’s a still secret, something we don’t talk about. Something we really don’t want others to know about – because in some way, there is a little Francecsa Woodman in us all.

And to this end, we are blessed creatures.