Behind Closed Doors

Remodelling Photo History (Self as Image)

Jo Spence

Remodelling Photo History (Self as Image)

Vintage Gelatin Silver Print

1982

HC 10387

Provenance

Jo Spence Memorial Archive
Richard Saltoun Gallery, London

Literature

Jo Spence, Putting myself in the picture: A political, personal, and photographic autobiography, 1986, p.130 (titled Revisualisation)

Jo Spence. Collaboration with Terry Dennett

Stamped Photography Workshop and annotated verso

Alternatvely titled Remodelling Photo History (Revisualisation) in Jo Spence's autobiography, Putting Myself in the Picture, 1986, p.131.


Siona Wilson in her reading of Remodelling Photo History identifies the comic aspect of Spence's maternity image and discusses it in terms of the depiction of woman as a modern Madonna.(1) Her discussions focuses on this aspect but the work also wittily addresses comedy and masculinity. In 1982 the image was not only presented as part of Remodelling Photo History, as published in Screen magazine and discussed by Wilson, but also appears in Spence's unpublished thesis Cinderella.(2) There it is placed as the culmination of a section devoted to male figures in fairy-tales. The section is a humorous digression from the main thesis, and appropriately takes as its title "and now for something completely different", a popular line from the British satiric television show, Monty Python. The image ends the section and follows a series of illustrations from children's story books of heroic figures. After this fairy-tale build up the impact of this show-stopping image is increased by its disproportionately enlarged picture-size, compared to the preceding pages of images, and by its placing at the end of the sequence so as to deflate the pretensions of a procession of heroic male archetypes. Appropriately it appears beneath a quotation from Sigmund Freud.

(1)
See Siona Wilson, "Reading Freire in London: Jo Spence's Photographs between Popular and Avant-Garde" in Renée M. Silverman (ed.), Popular Avant-Garde, Rodopi (2010). Wilson situates "Spence's work in relation to two opposing artistic attitudes towards the representation of the female body; one characterized as "popular", and the other "avant-garde". For the former I draw upon Lynda Benglis's controversial presentation of herself as a pornographic model and the latter is exemplified by Mary Kelly's iconoclastic refusal to represent the female body. In contrast to these two feminist strategies, I argue that Spence's work overcomes the apparently irreconcilable opposition between "popular" and "avant-garde."
She writes that the present photograph is "immediately recognizable as another take on the modern MadonnaThe female figureis lit to create a noticeable halo of light, and a filter is used to produce a soft focus that, drawing on familiar advertising effects, suggests a heightened sentimentality. Spence evokes the most popular affect associated with the maternal in her careful manipulation of photographic technique. Spence's reader of Freud is now shown nursing an adult man at her breast, and her photographic reworking of the Madonna and child asks us to reflect upon adult sexuality as it relates to both the maternal and infantile pleasures of nurture. The carefully staged visual codes for maternal sentimentality are shockingly undercut by this juxtaposition. This is an image about the complexity of the breast as an object of desire. The shock produced by the juxtaposition-and I think that the nursing man is a more shocking image than Benglis's-stems from the conjunction of the acceptable and the taboo-infantile nurture versus maternal pleasure." pp.190-91

(2)
Jo Spence, "Fairy Tales and Photography... or, another look at Cinderella", unpublished undergraduate thesis, Polytechnic of Central London, 1982. (Hyman Collection).

British Photography / The Hyman Collection.

Jo Spence

Remodelling Photo History (Self as Image)

Vintage Gelatin Silver Print

1982

HC 10387

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