Jo Spence

Jo Spence was an iconic feminist photographer, who turned her cancer diagnosis and journey throughout, into a mirror for reflection. Her art work usually challenged societal issues such as, gender, class, identity and mortality. In her early days, she worked as an assistant and then as a high street photographer – which saw her shooting images of actors weddings, portfolios and ‘cute children’. She grew tired of this, so turned the camera on herself, creating her most prominent work. In 1982, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, although Jo refused to rank the disease as the most important thing in her life.

Jo Spence revolutionised self portrait, famously establishing photo therapy, a discipline that used the camera as a tool to reflect on issues of society, class, gender, death and body politics.

Her work is raw and unapologetic. Not only can I somewhat relate, I both admire and respect her work too. Throughout her documentation, although it is quite explicit how the diagnosis effects her life, there is both a sense of resentment and acceptance.

She refuses the cancer to bare any weight of importance in her life. However, throughout her photographic diary,  despite the images having a sense of despair and darkness behind them, the photographs have not been taken to be strictly for depressive effect. There is no intention to make the series dark; it is simply using photography to showcase her life with illness and the hardships she faced.



This in my opinion is quite a self explanatory image. It challenges the notions of sexuality and gender. In terms of wanting to portray a point clearly, this image definitely is, quite visually explicit.  The use of lighting and shadows is lovely in this image. The black background adds a sense of drama.


This image again, is challenging the notion of gender and sexuality. The anonymity adds a sense of mystery, for example, no use of facial expression. This is probably least favourite of the images I have picked, due to it not being photographically interesting. Despite the concept being relatively mysterious.


Prior to having a cancerous lump removed from her breast, Spence took this photograph. She was questioning the ownership of her body.  It is subtle, but I feel the use of the question mark ‘Property of Jo Spence?’ that is written on her breast, is as if it is being second guessed. This is interesting and subtle which I think adds interest to the photograph. The deadpan look into the camera, paired with the black and white, makes for an image with a sense of darkness about it.


Using her camera, she challenged her body and illness and found new ways of claiming her identity back. This is from a series called  ‘A Picture of Health’. I love the fact she has used the edge of the film, to frame this photograph. Although posed, there is a sense of rawness about it. Almost a  juxtaposition, posing in a way a model would.


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