British photographic history

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Events: Jo Spence / London, from 11 March 2023

A series of events organised by the History and Theory of Photography Research Centre together with the Centre for British Photography and Four Corners, coinciding with the exhibition  Jo Spence: Fairy Tales and Photography at the Centre for British Photography, an exhibition of materials from the Hyman Collection and the Jo Spence Memorial Library Archive at Birkbeck, curated by Patrizia Di Bello and James Hyman, with help from Eliza Neil and Marta Duarte. 


11 March 2023, 3-5 pm, at the Centre for British Photography, 49 Jermyn St, St. James's, London SW1Y 6LX 

Synthetic Documents: Jo Spence’s ‘self’ portraiture, from The Faces Group to the Polysnappers 

With Alexandra Symons-Sutcliffe. Please note that registration and a fee will be required to book a place on this as spaces are limited. These are not for profit but to manage space. Book here.  

The photographer Jo Spence (1934–1992) is closely associated with the radical London left of the 1970s and 1980s and particularly feminist politics. The phrase ‘the personal is political’, often deployed to summarise some of the aims of the Women’s Liberation Movement, invokes the idea of self-representation as a primary political goal, but what does ‘the personal’ mean in a context of collective political organisation and art production? This workshop invites participants to take a long view of Spence’s self-portraiture, beginning with her early collaboration with Terry Dennett, as well as her work with female-only photography collectives, including the Faces Group and The Polysnappers. Through the handling and discussion of documents from the Jo Spence Memorial Library Archive, and a presentation on the history of Spence’s collaborations by curator and writer Alexandra Symons-Sutcliffe, the workshop aims to unpack the role of the personal in collective political identity both in the 1970s and 1980s, and today within our changed political and media landscape. Attendees are invited to bring images they classify as self-portraiture, of themselves or others, to use in the group discussion which includes our own relationships with photography and ideas about political representation as well as the lessons we can learn from Spence.  

Alexandra Symons-Sutcliffe is a curator and writer, usually based in London, where she is a Ph.D. candidate at Birkbeck University writing a dissertation on Jo Spence and Terry Dennett. Currently, she is in residency at AWARE: Archives of Women Artists, Research and Exhibitions in Paris where she is working on a project focused on the connections between British and German radical left-wing culture of the 1970s.  



Reading Group 

14 March 2023, 7-8:30pm at Four Corners, 121 Roman Rd, London E2 0QN. 

Art Form and Funding: The 9–5 and the 5—9 

Free and open to all but RSVP required due to limited capacity, please respond to this email to confirm attendance and receive PDFs of the texts.  

Please join for a reading group and discussion on the history of art form and art funding in the UK and specifically London. Focused on the shared history of Four Corners and the Jo Spence Memorial Library Archive, we will discuss archival material and our own experiences of living and making work today. We will be reading in advance ‘Ten Years of the Photography Workshop’ by Jo Spence and Terry Dennett from Photographic Practices: Towards a Different Image (1986) ed Phillip Bezencenet and Stevie Corrigan and ‘The Rising Moon’ an article on Four Corners from Amateur Photographer (1978).  

In Discussion 

30 March, 6:30 to 8pm, at the Centre for British Photography, 49 Jermyn St, St. James's, London SW1Y 6LX 

‘Jo Spence: Fairy Tales and Photography’ 

Marina Warner in conversation with Patrizia Di Bello, reflecting on the themes of fairy tales and transformation in Jo Spence’s work, and its resonances in contemporary culture. Info and Booking

Roundtable discussion 

13 April, 6:30 to 8pm 

‘Jo Spence: The Archive Which is Not One’ 

A roundtable discussion with Charlene Heath, James Hyman and Patrizia Di Bello, discussing multiplicity, dispersal and repetitions of the ‘dispersed’ Jo Spence Memorial Archive. How do archives construct the past for the present and the future? Info and Booking.  

Image: Detail from Jo Spence Faces Group (Lyn), 1975-1977. Workbook with gelatine silver prints and masks. Ryerson Image Centre, Jo Spence Memorial Archive 

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