[The Photographers' Gallery]



Francesca Woodman


On 19th January 1981, Francesca Wood man threw herself from the window of her loft in the East Village. She was twenty-two. The work she left behind has established her as one of photography's quiet legends. This exhibition - her first solo show in Britain - represents a life's work, starting with her first photographs taken at the precocious age of 13.

Woodman brought an understanding of symbolism, the Baroque, Surrealism and Futurism to her haunting, sensual, and occasionally, violent self-portraits. Her work is unusual in photography. It does not attempt to capture a suspended moment but instead shows us the elusiveness of time. Frequently, it contains elements of performance - she usually photographs herself in motion, often reduced to a blur.

Interested in how people relate to space, she played complex games of hide-and -seek, depicting herself fading into a flat plane - becoming the wall under the wallpaper, part of the floor, or sealed behind glass, constantly contrasting the fragility and vulnerability of her own body with the strength of the objects around her. Her body becomes an expressive tool which mingles with the other objects she chooses to photograph; gloves, eels, sheets, mirrors, fireplaces and flowers. Fascinated by limits and boundaries, Woodman's work conjures the precarious moment between adolescence and adulthood; between existence and the ultimate disappearance, death.

Born in Denver in 1958, Woodman was brought up in a family of artists. She studied at Rhode Island School of Design between 1975 and 1979 and spent a year in Rome on a scholarship. This was an extraordinarily creative period in which she was influenced by the classicism, sensuality and decay of Rome and she exhibited her photographs for the first time in the basement of the Maldoror bookshop-gallery. On her return to America she moved to New York. Some Disordered Interior Geometry the only book of her work to be published in her lifetime appeared in January 1981.

Francesca Woodman has been organised by the Fondation Cartier pour l'art contemporain.

Hellen Van Meene


Braces on their teeth, unwashed hair, pubescent complexions - no attempt is made to disguise the physical imperfections of the girls becoming young women in the work of young Dutch photographer Hellen van Meene.

Van Meene's subjects are either already known to her, or are people she encounters and befriends in her home town of Alkmaar. Their ages vary: from children to prepubescent girls, adolescents to twenty-somethings. Sometimes they are photographed repeatedly, growing up over time. The portraits are stage-managed by van Meene, with clothing, make-up, mise-en-scène and setting, carefully conceived to result in highly sophisticated pictorial compositions.

The power and impact of van Meene's portraits results from a play between the imagined and the actual: their staged compositions set against the frank realism with which the girls are pictured. Departing both from the 'natural child' of the Romantic tradition (who was painted in a perpetual moment of ideal innocence), and the perfect bodies of contemporary fashion and advertising photography, van Meene's young subjects, always photographed in natural light, exist in a state of psychological and physical individuality. At the same time her portraits evoke historical female archetypes, lending them a curiously age-less and place-less quality.

A girl in a bathtub, eyes downcast, lost in thought in a summer garden, could be Shakespeare's Ophelia by way of the pre-Raphaelite painter, Millais; a raven-haired Lady Godiva adopts a contra posto pose for the camera; while the girl in an orange dress has the grace and poise of a modern-day Jeanne d'Arc. Echoes of historical portraiture reverberate through the series - from Piero della Francesca to Breughel, from Dante Gabriel Rossetti to Vermeer - remaining skilfully implicit, rather than explicit.

Hellen van Meene is the winner of the 1999 Charlotte KöhIer Prize: Holland's annual award for the most promising artist. She was born in Alkmaar in 1972 where she continues to live and work. She studied photography at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam. Her work was included in the group exhibition Scanning at
the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam in 1996, and in Unbescreiblich weiblich?, Noorderlicht, Groningen in 1997.

The exhibition is van Meene's first solo exhibition in Britain and is accompanied by a small monograph co-published with De Vleeshal, Middleburg.


[The Photographers' Gallery]