It is gestures like this that have led some to view Woodman as a post-minimalist, but it is important to look at her work in the context of photographic history. In an important 1978 exhibition Mirrors and Windows
, influential curator John Szarkowski of New York’s Musem of Modern Art argued for two main branches in the development of contemporary photography—self-expression and exploration. Minor White’s
photographs, imbued with a sense of transcendence, stood for self-expression, while Robert Frank
’s travels to the lesser-known corners of the United States spoke for the exploratory nature of photography. And exploratory photography was, by and large, the order of the day: the New Topographic
photographers, who rose to prominence on the heels of a groundbreaking 1975 exhibition, took to the road to capture “man-altered landscapes” (the show’s subtitle) with sober exactitude. But Woodman’s exploration turned inward, testing the boundaries of the self and the body, as if the skin that separated her from the world were as malleable as peeling paint in old buildings or a loosely strung up sheet. Yet alongside this corporeal allegory, formal elements were at the play that harken back to Aaron Siskind’s experiments with the medium, which blurred the line between painting and photography. Shooting surfaces of buildings close-up and straight-on, he ultimately did to photography—that ostensibly perfect window onto the world – what abstraction did to painting; they brought everything to the surface. In obliterating spatial rendering, the cornerstone of Western representation since the Renaissance, Siskind, like his cohorts the Abstract Expressionist
painters, collapsed space so that the surface was all that was left.