JO SPENCE, PHOTOTHERAPY
JO SPENCE WAS DIAGNOSED WITH TERMINAL BREAST CANCER DURING HER PHOTOGRAPHIC CAREER. SHE BECAME THE CENTRAL SUBJECT OF HER PIECE IN A SELF-EVALUATIVE WAY.
"Traditionally, the portrait is typified by the notion that people can be represented by showing aspects of their 'character'. We understand the portrait differently. Instead of fixity, to us it represents a range of possibilities which can be brought into play at will, examined, questioned, accepted, transformed, discarded. Drawing on techniques learned from co-counselling, psycho-drama and the reframing technique we began to work together to give ourselves and each other permission to display 'new' visual selves to the camera." Rosy Martin and Jo Spence, DISCUSSING PHOTOTHERAPY
"Throughout the 1970s and 80s, Spence sought to expose photographic stereotypes of family life, sex and class. Our picture perfect fantasy of ourselves was something she knew well. Born to London factory workers in 1932, she was sent to secretarial college at 13 before she landed a job as a bookkeeper and typist with a photographer in the 1950s." - THE GUARDIAN
JO SPENCE, CANCER SHOCK
"One morning, whilst reading, I was confronted by the awesome reality of a young white-coated doctor, with student retinue, standing by my bedside. As he referred to his notes, without introduction, he bent over me and began to ink a cross onto the area of flesh above my left breast. As he did a whole chaotic series of images flashed through my head. Rather like drowning. I heard this doctor, whom I had never met before, this potential mugger, tell me that my left breast would have to be removed. Equally I heard myself answer, 'No'. Incredulously; rebelliously; suddenly; angrily; attackingly; pathetically; alone; in total ignorance." Jo Spence
IN THE SERIES, THE VIEWER CAN SEE SPENCE ASSUME A NUMBER OF IDENTITIES AND INHABIT THE CHARACTERS SHE IS PORTRAYING. IT IS INTERESTING TO VIEW MULTIPLE SIDES OF A PERSON AND IT MAKES ME QUESTION AS TO WHETHER SHE PORTRAYING DIFFERENT ELEMENTS OF HER OWN PERSONALITY?
THE CHOICE OF CHARACTERS ASSUMED IN THE SERIES ARE UNUSUAL YET IT SOME WAYS FAMILIAR; THERE ARE NOTICEABLE REFERENCES TO CHILDHOOD, SPENCE AS A PATIENT AND SPENCE AS A LOVER...ETC.
THE FACT THAT THE IMAGES TO NOT HAVE TITLE'S INFORMING THE VIEWER OF THE CONTENT IS ALSO INTERESTING AS IT FORCES THE VIEWER TO WORK OUT WHAT EACH IMAGE REPRESENTS, AND HOW EACH IMAGE COULD POTENTIALLY RELATE TO THEM AS AN INDIVIDUAL.
SPENCE IS ABLE TO DOCUMENT HERSELF IN AN INFORMAL WAY THROUGH PHOTOGRAPHY; THE AESTHETIC OF THE IMAGES OFTEN SEEM LIGHT-HEARTED YET SINISTER. THIS CONCEPT IS APPROPRIATE FOR HER SUBJECT MATTER.
"In all of her work, Spence confronted us with the things society tries to conceal – not least women's unconventional physiques. In The Picture of Health she upped the ante, bringing disease into the frame. In one bare-chested photo, she stands before a mammogram, her breast laid out between its slabs like a separate entity. Later, she poses in a biker's helmet, holding up her arms to reveal battle scars." THE GUARDIAN
IN THE SERIES CANCER SHOCK, SPENCE EXPLORES AND DOCUMENTS HER EXPERIENCE OF BEING DIAGNOSED WITH BREAST CANCER. THIS IS, ARGUABLY, UNUSUAL BECAUSE SPENCE HAS DECIDED TO BE VERY OPEN AND DOCUMENT A PERIOD IN HER LIFE IN WHICH MOST PEOPLE WOULD BE VERY WITHDRAWN.
THE PRESENTATION ECHOES THAT OF A NEWSPAPER OR AN ARTICLE; TO ME THIS REITERATES THE IDEA OF 'BREAKING NEWS'. THE TITLE CANCER SHOCK COULD BE SEEN TO RELATE TO MEDIA HEADLINES, THE LAYOUT CONFIRMS THIS CONCEPT.
THE JUXTAPOSITION OF NEWSPAPERS/ TEXT AND IMAGES OF SPENCE HERSELF CREATES A VISUALLY CAPTIVATING AESTHETIC.
MOREOVER, THE USE OF TEXT ALLOWS CONTEXT TO THE MESSAGE THAT SPENCE IS PORTRAYING, WHILST THE USE OF PERSONAL IMAGES RELATES THE PIECES TO HER PERSONALLY. THE PIECES SPEAK FOR SPENCE'S EXPERIENCES AS AN INDIVIDUAL, WHILST ACKNOWLEDGING SIMILAR ISSUES FACED BY OTHERS.