Visibility and Ongoing Possibilities in Jo Spence’s Breast Cancer Narrative
Ms Charlotte LockZoom
This paper will examine the post-operative photographs of twentieth century British photographer and political activist, Jo Spence, as a visual breast cancer narrative. It will consider how Spence’s photographic self-portraits provide bodily visibility and a visual narrative, disrupting the invisibility surrounding the experience of breast cancer in the public sphere in the late twentieth century. The paper will illustrate how she explores the marking of the body and self, and feelings of infantilisation, vulnerability and agency; how her work responds to ‘the gaze’ in various forms, as well as being an example of what Garland-Thomson (2009) refers to as ‘visual activism’- sowing seeds for possibility. It will specifically look at photography’s capacity to make visible different subjectivities and consider the extent to which agency may be re-claimed. Through this, it will outline the complexity of Spence’s visual narrative, in how it is fundamentally questioning, and to draw on Bolaki (2016), ‘open-ended’, and the consequences of this for how narrative is understood. Collectively, these ideas will be drawn together to show how Spence’s post-operative photographic self-portraits challenge invisibility through multiplicity, visibility and possibility.