Fairy Tales and Photography, or, Another look at Cinderella

From Fairy Tales and Photography, or, Another look at Cinderella Jo Spence © The Hyman Collection, courtesy Richard Saltoun Gallery, London Fairy Tales and Photography, or Another look at Cinderella by Jo Spence and Class Slippers by Dr Frances Hatherley, with a preface by Marina Warner is published by RRB Photobooks and The Hyman Collection to coincide with a retrospective exhibition of Spence’s work From Fairy Tales to Phototherapy at the Arnolfini in Bristol from 4 December 2020 as part of Bristol Photo Festival.

Fairy Tales and Photography, or, Another look at Cinderella, a facsimile of Jo Spence’s ambitious BA thesis will be published in full for the first time. Written in 1982 by Spence, a cultural worker and photographer, this landmark thesis aimed to untangle interconnected gender and class oppressions in historic fairy tales. Spence asks ‘How do we take a story like Cinderella out of the archives, off the bookshelves, out of the retail stores and attempt to prise out its latent class content? Its political and social uses?’

Class Slippers, the sister publication contextualises the work of Spence for a contemporary audience and provides new insights to the dissertation nearly 40 years since its creation. It is written by Dr Frances Hatherley, an archivist at the Jo Spence Memorial Library Archive at Birkbeck, University, with a preface by writer Marina Warner. The publication of both these books coincides with the forthcoming retrospective exhibition of Spence’s work From Fairy Tales to Phototherapy at the Arnolfini in Bristol which is part of the inaugural Bristol Photo Festival.

“This dissertation brings together subjects, both personal and political, that she grappled with throughout her life: social class, family histories, sexuality, representation of women and visual ideologies. Her work drew on her own lived experience of being a woman from a working-class background, her battles with cancer, mental health, education and her family history, but throughout she was always socially minded, with an eye on the structures of power that shape our lives… In this funny, scrappy, smart and insightful work, we are encouraged to take another look at Cinderella – and once we have, fairytales will never look the same again.” – Dr Frances Hatherley

Spence’s thesis was a pivotal document created at a crucial point in her career. This facsimile version shows her handwritten markings and corrections, alongside her use of imagery from archival prints to magazines, book covers and photography to illustrate and enhance her argument. The thesis solidified her previous free-flowing thoughts, encompassed the key concerns her past and future work and formed powerful arguments which went on to mobilise future projects.

‘By reproducing in facsimile Jo Spence’s exceptional dissertation, this publication pays homage to her methods and her independence of mind. With its Merz-like, scrapbook feel, it’s a form of domestic production in itself and a unique example of book-making history before widespread digitisation in the home. A typewritten, collaged work from before an epoch of PowerPoint and Photoshop, Fairytales and Photography, or, another look at Cinderella can take its place in its own right as one of Spence’s significant cultural interventions.’ – Marina Warner

Jo Spence (June 1934, London – June 1992, London) was a British photographer, a writer, cultural worker, and a photo therapist. Spence began her career as a commercial photographer, specialising in family portraits and wedding photos. Never quite at ease with the title ‘artist’, Spence much preferred the the tag as ‘Cultural Sniper’; she used her camera to shoot and expose issues in wider society. She held the firm belief that photography has an empowering capacity when applied to complex issues of classism, social hierarchy, gender, and the body. Diagnosed with breast cancer in 1982, Spence used photography as a therapeutic tool to document her battle with the disease.

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