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  • Writer's pictureJo Sutherst

Sustainable Prospects – Considering Others – Jo Spence

I have been aware of the work of Jo Spence for sometime now. Her work has always emotionally impacted me when I have viewed it. Her work has been described as intimate and honest and it is to this that I aspire this project to be. Spence herself commented:

“Through photo therapy, I was able to explore how I felt about my powerlessness as a patient, my relationship to doctors and nurses . . . whilst being managed and ‘processed’ within a state institution”

– Jo Spence (Confronting, intimate, honest and uncomfortable 2014)

Spence produced and exhibited work that explored how she felt as she battled breast cancer. She created images that portrayed her emotional responses as well as her experiences with the treatment she underwent. Through this process, she suggested that the strength of the viewers’ responses to the images reinforces their validity as expressive objects. The impact and interpretation of the images will depend on the viewer’s personal experiences as well as the experiences of those involved in the creation of the images.

“[a] photo is a small voice, at best, but sometimes – just sometimes – one photograph or group of them can lure our senses into awareness. Much depends upon the viewer; in some, photographs can summon enough emotion to be a catalyst to thought.”

– Eugene Smith (Loewenthal 2013)

This also applies to the images in my current body of work whether the images are explicitly laden with emotion or whether they are more ambiguous in their portrayal. Spence’s work has been quite influential in the way that I have conducted this project.

My practice draws parallels with Spence’s.

“[she[ referred to herself as an educational photographer . . . her direct, often confrontational style was intended to be both pedagogic and emotive. For Spence, photography should be informative”

– (Jo Spence: Biography 2017).

My current body of work embraces this concept and is intended to raise awareness and educate the viewer about the issues that cause many of us to hide. The emotion in the unmasked images is clear. The pain is real. By looking at the images, the viewer begins to experience how the participant feels.

Figures 1-6: Jo Spence Images from 2017


Confronting, intimate, honest and uncomfortable. 2014. Dazed [online]. Available at: [Accessed 1 Nov. 2017].

Jo Spence: Biography. 2017. [online]. Available at: [Accessed 1 Nov. 2017].

Loewenthal, Del. 2013. Phototherapy and therapeutic photography in a digital age. London: Routledge.

IMAGE SOURCES (2017). Jo Spence: Narratives of Disease [online] Available at: [Accessed 12 Nov. 2017]. (2017). Jo Spence: Phototherapy  [online] Available at: [Accessed 12 Dec. 2017].

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