TV Alert: “The Woodmans” celebrates the life and work of Francesca Woodman

Francesca Woodman was ahead of her time. Unfortunately, she didn’t live long enough to find out. The photographer committed suicide in 1981 at age 22, jumping from the top of her apartment building in New York City after not finding the success she’d hoped for after graduating from art school four years earlier.

Tonight, December 22, PBS’ Independent Lens will air The Woodmans, a documentary about Francesca and her parents, who are artists as well. It’s largely a look at Francesca’s genius as a black-and-white photographer whose generally NSFW nude portraits are what you’re likely to see in high fashion photography today: The drama, the themes, the posing — Francesca had an eye for the things that could not have been appreciated until years after her untimely death.

The Woodmans, directed by C. Scott Willis, includes video Francesca shot of her process, interviews with those who knew her in youth and in school and vignettes from her diaries.

Fans of Diane Arbus, Virginia Woolf and author Heather Lewis will be intrigued by Francesca’s story, and saddened by the genius that was only revered posthumously. The documentary is well made, but illustrates her parents’ hint of jealousy that their dead daughter has had more of a celebrated career than either of them.

The Woodmans premieres tonight on PBS at 10 p.m. Will you be watching?

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