FAIRY TALES AND PHOTOGRAPHY
Fairy Tales and Photography takes as its starting point Jo Spence's epic thesis Fairytales and Photography. Or, Another Look at Cinderella (1982). In this, Spence asks ‘How do we take a story like Cinderella out of the archives, off the bookshelves, out of the retail stores and attempt to prise out its latent class content? Its political and social uses?’ Her chosen approach draws on her politics as a socialist feminist to inform her enquiry, untangling the gender and class oppressions interconnected in these historic tales. Entwined within this work are performative selfportraits juxtaposed with documentation of the Princess Diana media frenzy in the run up to the Royal Wedding, and the commercialization of love and marriage. Spence encourages women young and old to stop ‘waiting for their prince’, advocating instead the use of photography as a tool of personal and social transformation to break open the myths around which class and femininity are constructed.
‘This dissertation brings together subjects, both personal and political, that she grappled with throughout her life: social class, family histories, sexuality, representation of women and visual ideologies. Her work drew on her own lived experience of being a woman from a working-class background, her battles with cancer, mental health, education and her family history, but throughout she was always socially minded, with an eye on the structures of power that shape our lives… It is in these pages that her career’s key concerns jump off the page and the seeds of later work are sown, that her previously free-floating discomfort and distrust around societal norms and patterns become crystallised into powerful arguments that go on to mobilise future projects. In this funny, scrappy, smart and insightful work, we are encouraged to take another look at Cinderella – and once we have, fairy tales will never look the same again.’ - Frances Hatherley
The exhibition is curated by Patrizia Di Bello of the Jo Spence Memorial Library Archive at Birkbeck College, University of London and James Hyman, Centre for British Photography, and presents works from these two collections. It brings together major laminated panels on the theme of Cinderella (Hyman Collection) with archive photographs of Spence’s fairy tale themed 50th birthday party (Memorial Library Archive) to explore the ways in which the fantasy of the fairy tale informs Spence’s critiques of class and gender.
The exhibition is accompanied by a programme of talks and two publications: a facsimile of Spence’s thesis and Class Slippers with essays by Francis Hatherley and Marina Warner (RRB Photobooks/Hyman Collection).
About JO SPENCE
Jo Spence (June 1934, London – June 1992, London) is a key figure in British photography of the last fifty years. A photographer, writer, cultural worker and photo therapist, her theatrical self-portraits have proved highly influential on subsequent generations of photographers. Spence began her career as a commercial photographer, specialising in family portraits and wedding photos. Never quite at ease with the title ‘artist’, Spence much preferred the tag 'Cultural Sniper'; she used her camera to shoot and expose issues in wider society. She held the firm belief that photography has an empowering capacity when applied to complex issues of classism, social hierarchy, gender and the body.