From Fairy Tales to Photography: Jo Spence

Photographs from the Hyman Collection

18 May 2021 – 20 June 2021

Arnolfini | 16 Narrow Quay, Bristol BS1 4QA

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Drawn from one of the most comprehensive collections of Jo Spence’s works in the world, From Fairy Tales to Phototherapy focuses on the intersection between arts, health and wellbeing, celebrating her work as a photo therapist in which she used photography as a medium to address personal trauma, reflecting on key moments in her past.

Only when I got to fifty did I realise I was Cinderella 1984, in collaboration with
Rosy Martin. Jo Spence © The Jo Spence Memorial Archive,
Ryerson Image Centre, Toronto, Canada.

Arnolfini presents a major retrospective of the work of photographer Jo Spence (1934 – 1992), drawn from The Hyman Collection, which is one of the most comprehensive collections of Spence’s works in the world. This exhibition originally opened in December 2020 but was seen by a smaller than anticipated audience due to the subsequent covid winter lockdown.

Spence has been an integral figure within photographic discourse from the 1970s onwards. Throughout her diverse projects she is well known for her highly politicised approach to photography and the representation of her own struggles with cancer. The exhibition From Fairy Tales to Phototherapy focuses on the intersection between arts, health and wellbeing, celebrating Spence’s work as a phototherapist in which she used photography as a medium to address personal trauma, reflecting on key moments in her past. This will be the first time that her thesis will be exhibited and published in its entirety. Entitled “Fairy Tales and Photography, Or, Another Look At Cinderella”, this was a pivotal document, created at a crucial point in Spence’s career. The exhibition will focus on the actual smallscale photographs that Spence used in her phototherapy sessions as well as the laminate panels that she used for her workshops and touring exhibitions.

From Fairy Tales to Phototherapy charts Spence’s diagnosis and treatment for cancer, juxtaposing humour with inevitable challenging issues. Themes include Cinderella and Fairytales, Remodelling Photo History/Medical History, Childhood, Child and Parent Relationships, Libido/Sexuality/Marriage, The Grotesque.

Jo Spence: From Fairy Tales to Phototherapy is curated by Keiko Higashi, Engagement Producer at Arnolfini, with Dr. Frances Hatherley, writer, researcher and archivist at the Jo Spence Memorial Library Archive at Birkbeck, University of London.