Week 2 (Minor): Jo Spence “Narratives of Disease” Series

Cancer. What may be but a distant thought for some is sadly a reality for others. In 1982, Jo Spence was diagnosed with breast cancer. Determined not to let the illness ruin her life, she chose to focus the camera towards herself and document her newfound journey. The result being a narrative of photographs that are confronting, uncomfortable, but most of all, honest.

Each photograph tells a story of its own but is interrelated through emotion and reality. The narrative follows a roller-coaster of events and tells a story of different points in Spence’s life from having to give up sugar to becoming completely broken down and overwhelmed by the experience. “Narratives of Disease” depicts, not only, a woman’s anguish and ongoing battle with breast cancer, but also, narrates the struggles that females face between what is appealing and what is not. In particular, Western society’s ongoing fascination with idealized female beauty.


In ‘Exiled’, the red heels signify beauty and glamour. However, this is disrupted by a body which does not correlate with these ideals through to her posture which is disorientated and unruly. This demonstrates her inability to conform to idealized beauty standards whilst reflecting on her anguish of being perceived as an object within the health industry.

Throughout the series, not one of the images show her eyes. This creates a lack of identity and draws attention towards her body which is a symbol of struggle and personal experience with isolation from the outside world. The background is dull and dreary which reflects back on the emotion held within the photographs. In ‘Included,’ the teddy bears symbolize the need for comfort,belonging and reassurance and is a photograph which ties the series together as one.

Image Source: http://www.jospence.org/narratives_of_disease/narratives_of_disease_thumbs.html


Photo narratives of breast cancer and a feminist perspective

The Feminist Camera: The Work of Alexis Hunter and Jo Spence



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