The image is Francesca Woodman’s, a New York artist who worked in the 1970s and early 1980s, until she killed herself at the age of twenty-two. It is a photographic self-portrait. She is a woman holding a mirror up to her face – a fairly common trope in our artistic tradition, and one with which Woodman often engaged and manipulated throughout her tragically brief career. But the reflective side of the mirror is not directed at her, as we often see in such pictures. Rather, it is directed at us, or whoever happens to be looking at the image. In the mirror, we should see our face, or us looking back at ourselves, narcissistically, no doubt, or confidently self-aware. But we do not see ourselves. Rather, we see her back and the back of her head. In other words, and paradoxically, she faces us with her back turned towards us. She looks out at us looking at her refusing to look at us. Or is that the best and most felicitous interpretation? I am not sure. For, obviously, with the back of the mirror pressed up against her nose, she cannot see us either. We look at her not looking at us, facing forward, with her back to us. Or, perhaps, we somehow occupy her position, turning her back on herself, even as she, or we, are still able to watch her do so. We watch her ...
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