We acknowledge the Gadigal of the Eora Nation, the traditional custodians of the Country on which the Art Gallery of NSW stands.


from the Eel series, Rome



Francesca Woodman

United States of America

03 Apr 1958 – 19 Jan 1981

  • Details

    Media category
    Materials used
    gelatin silver photograph
    15.2 x 14.9 cm image; 45.7 x 45.7 x 2.5 cm frame
    Signature & date

    Not signed. Not dated.

    Alistair McAlpine Photography Fund 2005
    Not on display
    Accession number
    © Woodman Family Foundation/ARS, NY. Copyright Agency

    Reproduction requests

    Artist information
    Francesca Woodman

    Works in the collection


  • About

    Francesca Woodman’s theatrical critique of self forms part of a trajectory of recording space, gesture, temporality and the bodily form within a fictive field that is epitomised through the work of artists such as Claude Cahun or Ana Mendieta. Rather than portraying the self in the strict sense of self-portraiture, Woodman seemed more intrigued with the process of dissolving or deconstructing the self, the act of disappearance, effacing the process of what constitutes portraiture and what constitutes self. Her series of self-imagery commenced at the age of 14 and continued until her untimely death at 22 by which time she had produced approximately 500 works including an artist book titled ‘Some disordered interior geometries’ 1980. Rather than forming the body, Woodman seemed intrigued by the impact of the body in space and the idea of flattening the body to fit the paper.

    Staging the libidinal desire of the female subject as fetish object, Woodman’s often nude body portrays the self as becoming: becoming space, wallpaper, an angel, sand, or sculptural form, and in the process of appearing, disappearing, fragmenting or decaying. This photograph ‘From the Eel series’, Rome shows the acephalic body of Woodman on a cold mosaic floor in a writhing motion as if in the mimetic action of becoming an eel. The figure slips in and out of register, forming and un-forming, on the verge of abstraction, but still bodily. The object of her apparent desire (or desirer) emanates from an enamel bowl, enhancing its phallic symbolism and evoking the eel as fertility symbol and slippery trickster. Woodman’s use of objects as metaphors (bones, fish, melons) employs the surrealist trope of signification to great effect.

    © Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007

  • Exhibition history

    Shown in 2 exhibitions

  • Bibliography

    Referenced in 1 publication