Jo Spence

beyondthefamilyalbumFAMILY ALBUM

Spence explores secrets. Secrets appear everywhere, individuals, families, politics, media, religion. Spence focuses on those secrets that occur within a family setting; secrets that are passed down, used to protect family members, in the family album etc. In the family album certain photographs are chosen to show and certain photographs aren’t, similarly the scenes people choose to photograph. You can look through a family album and get to know the people in the photos but only get to know what they want you to see.

Spence wanted to find out more about her family, specifically her mother. She wanted to find out about the woman in the photos before she gave birth.

Whilst appearing to democratise and offer the potential to reveal all secrets and tell us ‘the truth’, in reality can’t really do any such thing and many compound and conceal the real secrets. 

Spence has many of her own secrets and family secrets which have had such an effect on her that she has only just been able to come to terms with it (17 years later) from “family loyalty, fear and shame”. Spence needed to let go of her emotions that had built up around the secrets, after trying a number of ways she began to use photography along with skills learnt from art therapy. Spence felt controlled by her secrets and the need to be covert, which came from her family lifestyle of being an evacuee and needing to behave certain ways. Spence experienced having to be a certain person at work and around men (obedient, tidy, posh speaking) and then a different person on her own (tomboy, sexual) and then at home she was the well mannered virgin daughter.

Spence took photographs of everyday life- snapshots on the streets showing changes, photographs of events that she thinks she wont want to remember, staged photographs of repressed memories.

For me:

Jo Spence’s work speaks to me because I understand her intrigue about secrets and what people are hiding. I really enjoyed reading about Spence’s work, and watching her life journey through photography. She sees her work as “politicised exhibitionism”.

Influenced by Jo Spence’s family album, I looked back to my own, or at least my memories. Something that stands out to me is the memories of moving house. When a certain street or house is mentioned, I remember each house a different stage, a different feeling, a different self. I don’t have negative memories of moving, instead I feel excitement and anticipation to start fresh. I remember all my different ‘safe places’ to reflect my current mind set. With each new setting, I feel like I discovered more about myself. When I try to remember key events of my life, the first thing I do is think about which house I was in.

In the past 10 years, I have moved house 21 times.

In an art piece- exploring the moves. How the houses represent a self.
I have an image in my head of 3 large self portraits in frames, with 3 small box frames containing different keys. The idea behind this is that each portrait shows a Self, shows a part of me. Haven’t decided what yet.

Unlocking the selves.


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