‘Photo Therapy: Preparing to be a Beautiful Lady at 52’ was a collaboration with Rosy Martin. In this work Jo plays out her fears about growing old and aging. She is shown holding a small plush child’s toy, and her face shows hesitation in leaving behind her youth and beauty.
Jo found most of her props through scowering old charity shops, which is also how she found her clothes. She said it was interesting because her mother would never have deigned step foot in a charity shop, and if her mother had ever seen these series of images in which Jo dresses up as her, she would have been aghast of what Jo selected.
In this work, Jo at first appears gleeful; she is knowingly looking at the camera and is fully aware of her status as an actor. This slowly changes as she moves through the various smodes of acceptance, confusion and grief.
A Photo Therapy session could often result in hundreds of small prints, as each session was processed based and could develop ad hoc. But in this series, Spence honed it down to just 18 images, which showed the developing session. Spence is on record saying that the motivation behind this work came from a rejection by a lover who told her she was too old and wasn’t beautiful. She said in an interview, in 1991, that this rejection prompted her to still yearn to look like a 25-year-old, and despite knowing how daft it sounded, it was something that she wanted, although she was angry at herself for having these feelings because she loved and respected her own body at this point.
The Estate of Jo Spence
Alexis Hunter & Jo Spence, Richard Saltoun Gallery, London, 2013
Ribalta, George and Terry Dennett. Beyond the Perfect Image. Photography, Subjectivity, Antagonism. Exhibition catalogue. Barcelona: MACBA, 2005, illus. 348-349
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