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Jo Spence Memorial Library Archive

The Jo Spence Memorial Library is made up of material both from and about the life of photographer Jo Spence. It was compiled and then generously donated to the Centre by her former collaborator, Terry Dennett, from the Jo Spence Memorial Archive on Upper Street.

If you would like to arrange access to the collection or if you are interested in volunteering to assist collating materials, please contact

About the collection

  • The collection includes books, magazines and pamphlets representing a lifetime of gathering books that reflect Spence's and Dennett's interests and biographies, and has become a useful resource for students with wide interests.
  • These materials reflect the diversity of interest and practice that characterised Spence’s photography and life. Her interest in different forms of photography, in visual culture, gender representation, in fairytale mythologies, in personal histories, in health, in working with collectives and communities and her battle with cancer are all represented. These themes weave through the collection, creating patterns and connections that lead towards a whole picture of an individual’s engaged and committed process.
  • The collection also includes boxes of visual reference material, such as cartoons cut out from newspapers and magazines, greeting cards and photographs taken as references for her work. These boxes contain an insight into the artist's working methods and provides a valuable resource of popular culture of the time she was working in the 1970s, 80s and early 90s. For example, the collection provides an insight into 1970s and 1980s popular and visual culture and the politics of the period with a wide range of contemporary and campaign group material. The collection also includes technical photography manuals from the early 1900s onwards, and a large number of art and photography books and catalogues.
  • As well as material specific to the work of Spence and Dennett, the collection includes publications of use to all students of history of art and photography, including classic texts such as Freund’s Photography and Society and Solomon-Godeau’s Photography at the Dock. The collection includes glamorous 1950s photography magazines like Photorama, community education and photography publications by groups like Exit, books on gender representation and politics, cancer treatment and health, props used in her work and beautiful children’s fairytale books.

How to view the collection

  • The material is currently housed in B17, on the lower floor of 43 Gordon Square. It is currently being collated and is available for limited research access by appointment only.
  • You can search for keywords and areas of interest in our inventories (above). When you have identified a particular publication, note the shelving section to find it.
  • Publications are divided into three main sections:
    • publications and material by or about Jo Spence
    • general collection
    • post-1992 collection.
  • The post-1992 collection consists of materials collected by Dennett after Spence’s death. Within the main and post-1992 collections, publications are further divided into shelving sections.
  • All material is reference only.
  • Please note that some books contain inserts such as personal notes made by the artist. This is one of the features that makes the collection so fascinating. Please do not remove any inserts or markers from inside the books. As an artist’s collection we intend to keep all materials in the condition in which they were donated.

About Jo Spence

  • Jo Spence (1934-92) was a British writer, educator and photographer, although she was quite ambivalent about being called an ‘artist’. In fact, she much preferred to call herself a ‘cultural sniper’. But instead of brandishing a gun, Spence used her camera to shoot and expose issues in culture: she was one of the first female photographers to confront the anxiety of seeing oneself in photographs. Patrizia Di Bello's HENI Talk explores how Spence targeted the media’s representation of women - always coded as young, plucked and perfectly made-up - by laying her own body on the line.
  • Throughout her life and career as a photographer, Jo Spence defied simple categorisation, working in a way that did not fit with conventional photography histories. An article by Angela Stapleford, Stand in Contradiction, Write or be written off: Jo Spence, autobiography and archive, looks at the lasting impact of Spence's life and work, making connections between her inspiring autobiography Putting Myself in the Picture, her desire to take power over her own representation and a library of books that she collected in her lifetime.
  • In the 1970s, Spence collaborated with other women in the Hackney Flashers collective, and her interest in community photography projects is reflected in books in the collection relating to community, education and photography.
  • Having worked as a photographer for much of her life, Spence studied at the Polytechnic of Central London as a mature student in her forties. She rebelled against the 'power-based institutional framework', and again worked in a collective, the Polysnappers, with fellow students. They worked with dolls to explore questions of the family, fantasy and gender roles.
  • Spence collaborated with Rosy Martin on photo therapy to revisit and restage crucial parts of their lives and development, using memory and childhood photographs to empower. The collection includes props such as dolls, masks and shoes used in this and other photographic work, in which Spence used props and outfits to recreate a scene or explore aspects of herself.

Terry Dennett

  • Terry Dennett worked as a scientific photographer and also developed community photography projects working with children. He met Jo Spence when visiting the Children's Rights Workshop in 1973. They soon began working collaboratively. Dennett worked with Spence on many projects including developing community projects as part of the Photography Workshop, 'Remodelling Photo History', an investigation into the way photography interacts with society, and 'The Final Project' which dealt with her mortality in Spence's last few years of life.
  • After Spence's death in 1992, Dennett acted as curator of the Jo Spence Memorial Archive. He took care of Spence's work and developed an archive of her research and papers, also collecting new material that was generated about her life and work in order to make an ever evolving resource available for students and researchers.
  • The collection here includes material relating to Dennett's research into economic crisis and the labour movement which he has developed into a photography project; 'Crisis'. It also includes an incredible resource of books on the science of photography, relating to Dennett's research into developing alternative darkroom techniques which also forms part of the collection.