Andrew Bruce and Anna Fox: Spitting/Spitting Image

26 January - 28 May 2023

In 2015 The Hyman Collection commissioned Andrew Bruce and Anna Fox to respond to the original Fluk and Law Spitting Image puppets of Margaret Thatcher and her Cabinet Ministers in our collection. 

One of the most popular British television programmes of the 1980s and 1990s, watched by an audience of 15 million people at its peak, Spitting Image featured puppet caricatures of prominent celebrities of the time, including international politicians and the Royal Family, among others. The series was cancelled in 1996 but remains a seminal piece of British television.

Echoing the garish photographs made by Spitting Image creators Peter Fluck and Roger Law before Martin Lambie-Nairn approached them to suggest adapting their creations for television, Fox and Bruce spent weeks in the studio working with a selection of the original puppets, crafting these ominous images.

Photographed either against brightly coloured neon backdrops or shrouded by darkness, each image depicts a former Tory party member. Rendered in extraordinary detail on large format film, at times stripped of their clothing, every mark on the latex or foam is made visible and accentuated, including signs of wear, fragility and decay. Presented in this way, the puppets become evocative emblems of a past era and a faded power. There is an awkward tension in these photographs between the puppets as depictions of people, as cultural icons, and also as crumbling modern artefacts.

Anna Fox said: 'Once we had them out of their packing cases, lying on the studio floor, the puppets looked broken, aged, decrepit and lacking any glimmer of life. The orange latex protruded pathetically from underneath their clothing as we re-arranged them on the stand. At one point, Norman Tebbit's head came off as if he was being decapitated by some unknown force. The glamour faded, the sheen gone. Failed characters abandoned in storage... Spitting Image was a great show that was made, in the wake of Python, at a time when humour really could be outrageous. These puppets, imbued with satire, represented our most significant politicians at their worst... Now, like all political fortunes, we are left with the remnants of a different age.'

Andrew Bruce said: 'Several years ago I visited Ten Downing Street to help on a shoot creating a portrait of David Cameron for a Sunday supplement. Throughout the shoot we were constantly watched over, told what we could and couldn't do; where David could stand, how we could light him - it seemed like we were puppets. And so years later - when Anna amd I posed Maggie, an upside-down tripod running up her back for support, we rearranged her hair, depressed the plunger controlling the angle of her eyes and I unbuttoned her blouse to take in the crumbling foam body that lay beneath - I thought about that shoot at Number Ten. I was born in the final years of Thatcher's government; born into a generation of politics that seems quite unrecognisable from that of the politicians whose puppets we photographed. Now in an era where satire has become dangerous and appearances are guarded and cultivated with a clinical level of precision, it seems more important than ever that we remember to probe the imagery of politics we are presented with every day.'

Hyman explained: 'Spitting Image was part of my childhood so it was incredibly exciting to be able to acquire some of the most important puppets used in the famous TV series... When I mentioned these puppets to the wonderful British photographer, Anna Fox, she was immediately excited by this crazy purchase and we discussed the possibility that she might photograph them. So I'm delighted that after a gap of some years the opportunity arose for her and Andrew Bruce to collaborate on these exciting new pictures. For me these new photographs, often on an enormous scale, are about more than recording appearance, although they do that in extraordinary detail, but are also about the expendability of politicians. We are shown that beneath the veneer there is fragility, underneath the power-dressing there is vulnerability. These photographs remind me of right-wing politician Enoch Powell's assertion that "all political careers end in failure"...

... One of my favourite pictures shows the puppets dumped in a pile on the floor as though ready to be swept away as garbage. But whilst it may be true that these puppets have lost some of their shine, through Spitting Image and now these remarkable photographs, these politicians have achieved a form of immortality.'