Francesca Woodman exhibit at SF MoMA

I recently visited the Francesca Woodman exhibit at SF MoMA. The first thing that struck me, was how many works like this I’d seen through my years in art school (late 1980’s/early 1990’s). As I stepped into each new gallery, I was confronted with raw, scene integrating, self-explorative imagery that many of my contemporaries had spent years building their photographic landscape with. Some of it going well into their senior/graduate thesis shows.

The second and most powerful thing I experienced was the realization that hers was a life cut-off at the height of potential. Each piece I viewed reflected a maturity in language, yet held fast on the brink of fully expressive. Unlike Francesca, those I once knew have had the chance to further evolve, mostly turning towards portraiture outside themselves.

One particular set of images (large self-portraits via diazotype) reignited the memory of my dear friend Andy Freiberg. Unfortunately, there are no samples left of his work (save for some test prints in a box, somewhere in New Mexico). His portraits would simultaneously ingest you and hold you at arms length. But the most fantastic element, was their impressive scale and similarity to old Hollywood portraits. He didn’t achieve this by light. Rather, he worked directly on the prints with astounding results.

I had the chance not only to pose for him but also see him work. He had these 20′ by 20′ metal trays custom made which he kept in the middle of his living room at the ready. Once exposed, he’d take the large sheets of paper through the trays and re-pin to the wall for drying. He’d then take a small vile of acid and strategically “paint” over the print. Each stroke seemingly disconnected and yet, not able to stand without the last. His photographs still haunt me in the most lovely way. I’m just sad I lost touch and lost…him.

Just like Francesca, Andy was not long for this world. Unlike Francesca, his work was never celebrated nor collected, and I think its a real shame. His talent and eye are second to none. I’m grateful for having been exposed to it, and to have the opportunity to remember it.

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