Made at the same time as Spence’s ‘Libido Uprising’ series, ‘Photo Therapy: Beautiful Lady’ (1989) was a collaboration with Rosy Martin. It consists of a series of four prints. In the first we see Spence holding a vacuum head, used as a prop. The open, gaping hole of the vacuum head is facing outwards, towards the camera, in a somewhat sexual position. The work is exploring the dichotomy of the domestic versus the erotic, and by doing so, takes on quite a strong sexual connotation.
The subsequent images show Spence posing, using either her visible cleavage or her hair, which is a traditional signifier of beauty, almost as a courting gesture. With ‘Libido uprising’, which was made at the same time, Spence mapped out her desire to be loved by her mother, but with ‘Beautiful Lady,’ it is a desire to be loved by a man. Jo Spence first explored this in 1979 through her work ‘Jo Spence as a Sex Object’, where again she was pictured wearing a low-cut top and wig. It was a collaboration with Terry Dennett, who was her partner at the time. Spence continued to explore sexuality throughout her work and spoke often of her early sexual experiences: she shared a partition bedroom with her brother until she was 25, so most of her early sexual experience were of groping in a cemetery, located on the side of the house estate where she grew up.
These four images, however, show a far more acutely aware Spence, appearing as comfortable and confident with her sexuality, despite the fact that her facial expression hints at something perhaps otherwise.
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