Past Exhibition

Beyond the Family Album and Other Projects

Jo Spence - 4 March to 15 April 2005

Opening 03 March, 7 to 9pm. All Welcome

'My entire life seems to have been founded on conflict. Both within my family and through wider social contexts, it felt as if there were a continual war going on just beneath the surface, threatening to break out if certain rituals were not observed.'

In collaboration with Terry Dennett, Belfast Exposed Photography exhibited Jo Spence's seminal work on domestic photography, Beyond the Family Album, and other work on representations of family relations.

Spence described Beyond the Family Album as a work-in-progress aiming 'to better understand how, through visual forms of representation, our subjective views of selves, and others, are structured and held across the institutions of media, and through hierarchical social relationships.'
Spence identified popular photography as the complex site of ideological negotiation between family, class, gender and social life. She emphasised the need for a 'counter-photography' of the family, one that breaks with the strict conventions of popular photography, to portray a more realistic representation of family life. She critiqued how most family photography is reduced to a limited set of typifying narratives and how much of what constitutes family life remains undocumented. She advocated collaboration between participants, willing to engage with questions of sexuality and family relations.

Beyond the Family Album, Private Images, Public Conventions, was originally shown at the Hayward Gallery, London in June 1979 as part of a survey show of contemporary British photography called Three Perspectives on Photography. Alongside this work, the exhibition will include some of Spence's early work with the Hackney Flashers on childcare and work on family produced by the Polysnappers while studying at the then Polytechnic of Central London. It will also include photographs that she made with her brother during his divorce, Phototherapy work examining her relationship with her mother and some material from her leukaemia diaries.

Jo Spence's work on extending the categories of the family album continues to function as a stimulating and practical model for thinking about what photographs do. Her project becomes more complicated when considered in relation to media trends of confessional display as entertainment and sensationalised depictions of dysfunctional family relations displayed in contemporary art galleries. However, even in a context of capitalist appropriation of art into entertainment, her contribution can be valued as an intervention into everyday social practice and as a tool-kit for understanding and critiquing representational and media conventions.

Jo Spence was one of Britain's pioneering photographers. A founding member of Photography Workshop, she exhibited and educated widely from the early 1970s to her death in 1992. Having studied with Victor Burgin at the Polytechnic of Central London, she involved herself with numerous projects such as the Hackney Flashers, Half Moon Photography Workshop, Camerawork and Phototherapy more generally. Her radical and innovative work has influenced a generation of practitioners and students of photography.