Information and discussion on all aspects of British photographic history
There are over one-hundred high quality colour photocopies, home computer printouts, and digital files of British photographer Jo Spence’s work held in the collection at the Ryerson Image Centre (RIC) in Toronto, Canada – the largest repository of her memorial archive. Spence (British, 1934–1992) was a radical London-based activist, socialist-feminist photographer, writer, educator and collaborator whose photographic practice challenged the art world and museum’s fetishizing photographs through conventions such as limited edition prints as collector’s items. Together with one of her primary collaborators, Terry Dennett (British, 1938–2018), Spence founded Photography Workshop in 1974, an alternative archive, research hub and resource centre that grew out of their dissatisfaction with current modernist trends in British photography and desire to contribute towards social change. Easily made and inexpensive, I argue that unlike many of Spence’s ‘vintage’ works now subject to the contemporary art market, the RIC’s photocopies, print-outs and digital surrogates, are a continued manifestation of Spence and Dennett’s political project of prioritizing dissemination and the rhetoric of their photographic messages over and above all else.
Charlene Heath is Archives Assistant at the Ryerson Image Centre (RIC) in Toronto, Canada and a doctoral candidate in the joint program in Communication and Culture at Ryerson/York University in Toronto. She holds a BFA in Photography from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada and a MA in Photographic Preservation and Collections Management from Ryerson University in collaboration with the Eastman Museum in Rochester, New York, USA. She has written reviews and articles for BlackFlash Magazine, Photography & Culture,Aperture Blog, Revue d’art canadienne/Canadian Art Review (RACER) (forthcoming), and Transbordeur photographie (forthcoming). Through an analysis of the now dispersed Jo Spence Memorial Archive, her forthcoming dissertation considers the enduring legacy of political photographic practice in Britain in the 1970s and ‘80s.
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