I have always been a little ambivalent about Jo Spence’s work. It seemed to me to be a sort of public therapy to enable her to continue her life. As such I could see it could have value for others struggling after a cancer diagnosis but for the wider public? I was not convinced.
So when I saw that there was an exhibition of her work at Stills in Edinburgh, during the Fringe I really wanted to see it.
Stills is a great space in which to exhibit photography. This exhibition is exceptionally well presented with lots of information panels. It is separated into times or areas of Spence’s life. I was familiar with many of the works, from online viewing, but to see the originals in this context brought a whole new meaning for me. I was interested to read that she felt that she was not doing enough to help those less fortunate than herself. So she started to give art lessons to deprived children. This was one section of the exhibition. The images were happy and tender and really moving.
Another section showed details of the work she did in collaboration with three other fellow students, Mary Ann Kennedy, Jane Munroe and Charlotte Pembrey. Together they formed The Pollysnappers. They put together a degree exhibition show Family, Fantasy and Photography.
I was less impressed with the section “Why do I need to please you middle class bastards“. It was a personal rant and I felt not well enough presented to make its point.
Her documentation of her treatment for breast cancer is brutally honest, sometimes comical and sometimes painfully stark. We move along the treatment with her, willing her to get better despite her battered body. But she died young from leukemia.
I am really happy to have had this experience to learn more about this woman. I would have loved to have known her personally.