BEYOND THE FAMILY 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.
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”. Looking at Spence’s work has made me think about my own secrets, family secrets, memories that we try and push back. Jo Spence has created her work from her own experiences and her life, being influenced by the concept of photography repressing the reality of family life. This got me to thinking and realising the truth of Jo Spence’s work; our family albums and the photographs that we have on our life are ones that are staged and made to look better than they are. Jo Spence works to include more truthful documentations of her memories of family life. This project of work does not just represent that of family life, but also the conventions of social life, gender, class etc. This has had a particular effect on myself and my practice because of the idea of identity being portrayed in a subjective manner like the family photo album- and the reality is much deeper and unknown to the public eye.