Why would I take a photo like this?
At the end of March of this year, I posted a very strange photograph of myself that I took during the course of a photography workshop in which I was enrolled (Portrait with Huge Misunderstanding). I had just embarked on a long-term project to portray my relationship with my older brother who is autistic and functions at a very low level.
It came back to me…
I couldn’t remember, when I wrote that post, what possessed me to portray myself in that way. Vague-remembrances plagued me until the other day, when the name, ‘Spence’ came into my head. I consulted my good friend and colleague, Hana Iverson, with whom I went to many photography classes, and she remembered immediately: Jo Spence. That was it! Somehow, at the time I was taking my class, I was exposed to the work of Jo Spence and Rosy Martin: Photo-Therapy.
Having forgotten the premise of photo-therapy as portrayed by Spence and Martin, I turned to the world’s exo-memory and searched the web. From Sofia Silva’s blog I found Jo Spence’s definition of photo-therapy:
“I am continually asked, ‘what is photo-therapy? [To me] it means, quite literally, using photography to heal ourselves. ..I have been working on my stress and anxiety levels, reviewing my life in general and trying to understand the part that psychic life (fantasy) plays in my well-being, or otherwise…. Ways in which I have used the camera, therefore, include taking naturalistic photographs as things happened to me and around me, staging things specifically for the camera, using old personal photographs as a starting point and reinventing what they mean. The whole technique depends upon expecting photographs to help us ask questions, rather than supplying answers. Using this framework for photography, it is possible to transform our imaginary view of the world, whilst working towards trying to change it socially and economically.”
Spence used photography in any way she could to try understanding herself, her relationship with her illness and how she was treated by the healthcare system and by society. Spence, working with Martin photographed herself in different roles and personae, essentially producing and directing her own images. In one instance, she portrayed herself as a baby to emphasize the infantilization by the healthcare system through the cancer treatment process. Jo Spence’s work with photo-therapy may be found on page 13 of this catalog of a 2012 retrospective (Jo Spence Work (Part I) and (Part II) )
I’m not sure if I hit the mark with my self-portrait with mis-aligned ping-pong ball eyes, particularly using Jo Spence’s definition of photo-therapy. My image of myself imitating my brother’s mis-aligned eyes did not provide any revelations. Manipulation of the image, with the gradual blending of my features with Mike’s was more of a visual statement than a revelation: I have many of the features that he has; we are brothers, we are different blends.