Today would be Francesca Woodman’s 54th birthday. I never knew her obviously, I was 11 when she committed suicide, she was 22.
I lived a stupidly random childhood, often very exciting, frequently quite scary and nearly always utterly unpredictable. As I entered my teens, during which time I was naturally charming and pleasing to look upon and be with, I discovered Francesca Woodman. She showed up in a print dress, trapped in a magazine I found in the bottom of a box.
Her photographs looked like the places I slept, I could smell the rooms she lay in. I could hear her breathing in the corners of the houses my family would occupy for a month or two here, a week or two there. Her corners and mine would intersect like some Lovecraftian space-time contradiction. The flailing teenage Bibliodeviant had her stuck with blu-tack to whatever wall was nearest his head, and her grave eyes and the rare hint of a slightly bereft smile were the last things he saw before going to sleep. I knew nothing about her except those few pictures clipped out of some magazine. I think even if I had met her I would still know very little about her.
I can still remember how I felt when I eventually found out who she was and that she was dead.
A few years later and I escaped into the liberated and thoughtless air of higher education. I had again a wall above my bed, again Francesca Woodman was there, along with a supremely pretentious collection of bits of jewellery, bones, dried flowers and indeed anything that could suitably be used to occupy the minds of young women trying to decide if they felt sympathetic enough to take their clothes off. To those that did I will be eternally grateful…like I said, teenage me must have been absolutely charming and I salute your fortitude.
Miss Woodman has hovered over me through all the most important points of my life. I still have, in some attic imprisoned crate the images clipped from the original magazine. At some point she probably showed up on my walls in a frame, and finally, now that being a teenager is very distant history, she’s on my bookshelves and relegated to the civilized, pre-ordained places for photographs. She isn’t surrounded by bleached bones anymore, or cheap lockets or any of the other talismans of which she was quite clearly one. I’m not sure if that’s a step forward or not.
So this post isn’t about books at all, and it isn’t really about me. I’d just like to say Happy Birthday to Francesca Woodman, as I try to do every year, and thank you for looking after me all these years.
I wish I could have done the same for you.