Art Historian Siona Wilson returns to Leeds to present on her current research into the work of artist Jo Spence and the recent explosion in vernacular photography. Siona Wilson graduated with an MA from Leeds University and is now based in New York.
As a key figure in the critical reassessment of documentary in the 1970s and 1980s, Jo Spence’s collaborative work as a photographer, educator, activist, and theorist provides a powerful – although under acknowledged – precedent for the contemporary documentary ‘turn’ in the art world. In the 1980s she developed a type of subjective documentary around the politics of health that offers important insights into the recent explosion in vernacular photography. This presentation takes Spence’s 1986 book, *Putting Myself in the Picture: a Political, Personal and Photographic Autobiography* as its central focus. What insight does Spence’s autobiographical photo-book offer for our understanding of the shifts that we have seen in use of documentary photography in the contemporary moment? Furthermore, if there has been a re-engagement with documentary practices in the contemporary ‘globalized’ art circuits, how might these elite cultural spaces relate to the more pervasive vernacular uses of photographic self-documentation? While the eruption in self-imaging seen across numerous social media platforms appears as the bad dream of Spence’s subjective documentary, what insights might Spence’s work offer for critically examining the digital traffic in photography?
Siona Wilson teaches art history at the College of Staten Island and the Graduate Center, the City University of New York. She is a graduate of the M.A. in Feminist Theory and History of the Visual Arts at the University of Leeds and holds a Ph.D. from Columbia University in New York. She is author of the book Art Labor, Sex Politics: Feminist Effects in 1970s British Art and Performance (Minnesota, 2015). She has published essays in journals such as Art History, October, Oxford Art Journal, Third Text, and Women’s Studies Quarterly as well as several edited collections. She is the co-curator of the exhibition, Sexing Sound: Aural Archives and Feminist Scores at the James Gallery in New York, 2014. Recent essays address topics such as Yvonne Rainer’s Film About a Woman Who… and the politics of feeling, abstraction and sound in early feminist video, and contemporary art and the “sex-war” on terror. Wilson is currently a faculty fellow on the Committee for Globalization and Social Change at the Graduate Center, CUNY, New York.
The event takes place in collaboration with School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies, University of Leeds.