Francesca Woodman’s black and white portraits have a way of getting under your skin. Taken between 1975 and 1981, they typically show Woodman or her surrogates naked and in motion, or partially hidden, in crumbling, atmospheric interiors. Woodman’s images speak simultaneously to exhibitionism and camouflage, and their otherworldly romanticism seems to foreshadow her death in 1981 at 22. “You can’t ignore that she committed suicide,” says Corey Keller, an assistant curator at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, which will host the first major American exhibition of Woodman’s work, beginning November 5. “Which to some extent explains our interest but also makes us feel a little embarrassed about our interest.” Although Woodman produced a highly experimental body of work that was pioneering in its use of performance in photography to explore identity, Keller sees more whimsy than melancholy in the pictures. “I think it’s about being female at a certain point in your life,” she says, “when you try things on for size” (through February 20, 2012).

Photo: courtesy of San Francisco Museum of Modern Art