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Photo Therapy: Early Mother / My Mother as a War worker, by Jo Spence (in collaboration with Rosy Martin). 1984, printed c.1995. Chromogenic print, 94 by 61 cm. (Courtesy Jo Spence; and a Still Moving Archive, Ryerson University).

Keith Kennedy’s group photography and the therapeutic gaze of Jo Spence and Rosy Martin

by George Vasey • November 2019

The Wellcome Collection, London, has recently acquired the archive of Keith Kennedy (b.1934), which paints a complex picture of his experimental work across educational and healthcare contexts from the 1960s to the 1980s. The collection encompasses Kennedy’s ideas for workshops, correspondence, photographs and scrapbooks, and it captures many of the unique qualities of his work: much of the material is undated and there are many duplicated images and texts, often used in different contexts with alternative and sometimes contradictory notes attached to them. This essay focuses on Kennedy’s time at Henderson Hospital, a residential psychiatric hospital in Sutton, Surrey, in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It traces his use of improvisatory theatre and photography in group workshops and his influence on the later photographic work of Jo Spence (1934–92) and Rosy Martin (b.1946). Their development of what is here termed the ‘therapeutic gaze’ is then explored as an important precursor to contemporary photographic practices. 

After a string of clerical jobs throughout the 1950s and a stint in the military, Kennedy studied to be a drama teacher, going on to explore the potential of drama and photography in formal and informal educational contexts. In 1964 he established the Hornsey Group, a loose collective of young people with behavioural issues outside of formal education. The group aimed to create a sense of purpose and belonging for the participants and to provide a context in which they could reflect on their sense of self. In this, Kennedy was dedicated to improvisatory theatre, an approach heavily influenced by that of the Living Theatre, an experimental and anarchic theatre company based in New York that aimed to break down the division between stage and audience.1

The Hornsey group dissolved in the late 1960s and was re-established in 1972 in a different guise, with a group of art students and trainee teachers. This was a period that saw critical challenges to orthodoxies across education, housing and healthcare in the United Kingdom, from the Hornsey School of Art Sit-in (1968) FIG. 1 to the formation of the Open University (1969) and radical pedagogical experiments such as Anti-University (1968, London).2 These movements were matched by global activity, including Alexander Trochi’s Project Sigma (1962) in Italy and Evan Illich in Mexico, who was occupied with writing his iconoclastic De-Schooling Society (1971). Illich’s call for decentred and non-hierarchical learning networks caught the anti-institutional fervour of the period and became a key text for Kennedy. 

It was in 1973, in the context of such activities seeking to re-evaluate seemingly antiquated bureaucracies, that Kennedy met the photographer Jo Spence. At the time Kennedy was a lecturer in the teacher training department at Hornsey School of Art and Spence was working for the homelessness charity Street Aid. After several years undertaking commercial work, photographing families and weddings, Spence was moving towards a more politicised and social realist, documentary approach to photography. Partially informed by Kennedy’s deployment of the camera in educational and psychiatric contexts, Spence turned her attention to the use of photography within the community and in 1974 set up the Photography Workshop with her partner and collaborator Terry Dennett, converting an old hospital van into a mobile darkroom to provide workshops, information and advice for community groups around London. FIG. 2

Writing in the ‘The politics of photography’ in 1976,3 Spence claimed that community photography had the potential to put ‘photography in the hands of lots of people and dispense with experts’, in a move she aligned with her working-class politics. Community photographers, loaded with cheap cameras and access to dark rooms, could encourage others to photograph their friends, families and social environs, creating what Spence saw as a more democratic form of photography.

Spence was particularly interested in the representation of childhood and domestic labour: her own early forays into documentary photography focused on children in travelling communities and in 1974 she co-founded the Hackney Flashers, a photography collective of nine female photographers (and Dennett) dedicated to exploring women’s unwaged work. The collective’s project Women and Work,4 documented the working conditions of women in Hackney in a range of jobs including administrative, manufacturing and care roles, advocating for paid, or more fairly paid, work for women FIG. 3. Although these photographs established Spence’s politicised practice, by the late 1970s she would reject this documentary mode in favour of self-portraiture.

Spence’s ambitions for a community photography had affinities with Kennedy’s use of the camera in healthcare contexts. In an unpublished piece of writing from the mid-1970s, Kennedy articulated his approach to group photography as therapeutic, defining it as a ‘transactional medium’ used to mediate dialogue within a closed group of people.5 Mirroring Spence’s wish for a community of people who would employ cameras in their everyday lives, Kennedy asserted that ‘while everyone can use the camera, there are no photographers’.6 Differentiating it from documentary portraiture, the image is dialogic rather than monologic. Using Ariella Azoulay’s formulation of a photograph as ‘a form of relations of individuals to the power that governs them’,7 we can view Kennedy’s work as an attempt to replace the authorial or panoptic gaze of the photographer (or the doctor, the teacher, the parent) with an interdependent and therapeutic gaze. If the historical documentary mode of portraiture implies a classic form of representation, defined by an authorial control over its subject, then the subject of this essay is an exploration of photographic portraiture that complicates the relationship between the photographer and the subject(s). Rather than a gaze that is acted upon someone, the photographer and subject meet halfway. Representation is shaped via an interdependent and mutual relationship.

Kennedy arrived at Hornsey College shortly after the occupations and encountered a student body desperate for new experiences and eager to address established institutional thinking. Led by his students, Kennedy took the group into hospitals and hospices to work alongside patients and residents. In 1972 they started working at Henderson Hospital FIG. 4, a therapeutic community dedicated to supporting psychiatric patients.

The group undertook improvisatory and ‘in the round’ theatre as a form of recreational therapy. The sessions would often start with questions that would initiate discussion and role play, activities that were documented by the group via photography and audio recordings. In a typical workshop from the era, participants would be given an opportunity to roleplay alternative career identities. For those who had been in and out of psychiatric institutions their whole adult lives, the workshops created an opportunity to occupy a different character, at least for a while. For instance, one of the worksheets, which asks the participant to imagine ‘If I was a chef/optician/doctor/lighthouse keeper I might’ FIG. 5, provides an opportunity to transgress class and educational boundaries. These characters would then become the basis for collectively authored stories FIG. 6.

Because they document participants working within a closed therapeutic environment it is not possible to publish many of the images made during these workshops, but the photographs typically capture groups in conversation and performing to the camera. Ideas for workshops would often develop from discussion and would involve surreal prompts: ‘this is me at a moment of weakness’; ‘this is what I’ll look like when I’m dead’; or ‘the image of my face in my head’ FIG. 7. The resultant images are often slightly chaotic and modified further with collage and writing. In a recent interview, Kennedy described the process of the workshops. The group would arrive at Henderson, ‘push all the beds to one side’ and bring in domestic props to make the environment more relatable.8 Numerous contact sheets from the mid-1970s depict graffiti-strewn walls, with a group arranged in circles enacting out different personas. Several of these show Spence acting for the camera FIG. 8 FIG. 9. Spence assisted Kennedy with several sessions in 1974, in order to gain insight into his working methods. Although they would not produce immediate changes within her own practice, these images evidence Spence’s early interest in deconstructing photographic portraiture.

The purpose of collaborative photography, for Kennedy, was to move beyond ‘verbal blocks’ by replacing words with images. Workshops took the form of ‘take, make, view’, and operated somewhere between the dynamics of psychotherapy and play. Photographs were taken during exercises that were then quickly printed onsite and analysed by the group. The photographs were installed to create a photographic wallpaper so that discussions could be continually grounded in the images that were produced. Conversation and reflection were integral aspects of the workshop. Importantly, the unedited photographs resisted the traditional photographic idea of the singular or definitive image. Counter to typical documentary photography, which attempted to create a decisive image, group photography created multiple images of an activity, opposing the idea of a singular testimony. Images that would typically be lost in the editing process were retained, and the camera was shared within the group in order to produce multiple perspectives on the same event. This dispersed and co-operative working methodology was a crucial part of the therapeutic conditions of the workshop.

The use of group-based psychotherapy as an alternative to medication grew out of military hospitals in the post-war period. Hollymoor hospital in Northfield, Birmingham (1942–48), for instance, had a lasting impact on the treatment of psychiatric disorders. In what became known as the Northfield experiments, army psychiatrists pioneered such psychological therapies as group therapy, which foregrounded co-operative activity.9 Groups were set up throughout the hospital including closed therapy sessions, open ward meetings, psychodrama workshops, and work and leisure groups, so that the whole institution was organised around the collective treatment of psychiatric disorders.

Kennedy’s work at Henderson FIG. 10 expanded these legacies and coincided with a wider critique of top-down institutional psychiatry through the introduction of non-medicalised treatment.10 Figures such as Maxwell Jones challenged psychiatric orthodoxy in the United Kingdom, while R.D. Laing became something of a counter-cultural icon, opening Kingsley Hall in 1965 as an experimental psychiatric ward in East London.11 Also working in London, the South Africa-born David Cooper coined the term anti-psychiatry in 1967 to articulate the global opposition to traditional asylum structures and such treatments as electric shock therapy, insulin shock and lobotomy. In Italy Franco Basaglia’s anti-asylum movement had perhaps the greatest long-term impact in campaigning for restorative treatment programmes for psychiatric patients. Basaglia, on taking charge of an asylum in Gorizia in 1961, was shocked at the poor levels of care and campaigned to abolish the use of straightjackets and isolation quarters. Basaglia’s reform led to Law 180, passed in 1978, which ended the era of detention and repression of the mentally ill in Italy.12 With varied and contested success, these projects shared an ambition to promote anti-institutionalism and a peer-led community model of mutual care. They had a significant impact on the work and approach of Kennedy, as they would on the later work of Spence and Martin.

At Henderson, Kennedy developed psycho-social treatment for people with severe emotional, behavioural and relationship difficulties, more commonly labelled personality disorders. In an article from the Radio Times in 1975, Henderson is described as a place where ‘there are as many staff as patients and everybody is dressed the same. Patients can leave whenever they like, and no drugs of any kind are allowed on site (hard, soft, illegal, prescribed, proscribed or alcoholic); all cleaning, and conversation is done collectively’.13 Stuart Whiteley, who was director of Henderson between 1966 and 1988, articulates the aims of Kennedy and the Henderson project:

Permissiveness allows for catharsis, self-disclosure and the assumption of self-responsibility. Reality confrontation can promote self-awareness and the development of an identity and self-concept and learning through interpersonal actions. Democracy allows for self-management to emerge and altruism to flourish as a patient can contribute meaningfully with others, responsibly sharing the abandonment of fixed social roles and attitudes, and the development of new relationships.14

Within these new institutions creative activity took a more central and restorative role. We can look to practitioners such as Marian Chace in the United States, who explored the potential of dance in psychiatric wards throughout the 1940s and 1950s, before establishing the American Dance Therapy Association in 1966. Anna Halprin’s development of therapeutic dance in the 1970s continued Chace’s work. After a diagnosis of rectal cancer in 1972, Halprin explored the healing potential of collective dance, setting up the Tamalpa Institute in San Francisco in 1978 with her daughter Daria Halprin, to support expressive and somatic movement therapy FIG. 11. Many of its principles bear similarities to group therapy, and in a statement on their website Daria Halprin defines therapeutic dance as a ‘vehicle for awareness’, focusing on the gestures and movements of the everyday to explore the ‘interplay between the physical body, emotion and mental realm’.15

While Chase’s and Halprin’s projects remain active, the legacy of Kennedy’s work is more difficult to quantify. The archives paint a complex picture. In reports sent from Hornsey College of Art to Kennedy, colleagues question the therapeutic potential of the workshops, suggesting that the lack of quantifiable or evidence-based outcomes troubled the hospital management.16 Transcripts from evaluations of the sessions articulate a range of responses, with participants often contradicting one other. Sometimes very little seems to have happened, and at other points events descended into loosely controlled chaos. The lack of direction seems purposeful, however, as Kennedy resisted the typical position of a teacher. Responsibility was shared with students and residents devised ideas for workshops; Kennedy repeatedly describes Henderson as ‘a school without a syllabus’ where it can be difficult to differentiate between students and residents. The curious permissiveness of these workshops captures a moment where experimental pedagogy and therapy meet, when a supportive institutional framework for critical psychiatry met a politicised student body.

The archive documents the mutual support and shared admiration between Kennedy, Spence and Dennett. In a letter from 1975, Spence describes the impact of the project on her work: ‘I have digested your paperwork on the Henderson project and wondered if you would mind if I took the bones of it and applied it to my "women who don’t like their own faces" project’.17 She goes on to state that ‘the potential uses for photography in education and community work are virtually untapped at the moment’. One workshop in particular struck a chord with Spence and appears to have been generative to her own experiments with critical autobiography. ‘Idkit’ or ‘identikit’ – a neologism conflating the words identity and kit – was a passport-making workshop in which participants were tasked with creating visual documents to be carried around and shown to others FIG. 12. Exploring imagery of the family and their own family histories as a starting point, the intention of the workshop was to create a repository of images in the form of mini-diaries that could be used in everyday encounters. These passport-sized booklets incorporated collaged self-portraits and autobiographical texts that would challenge typical images of the self. Tasks given to the workshop ranged from the simple, such as ‘photograph a place that you like’, to the more abstract, such as ‘photograph a question you can and cannot answer’ FIG. 13 FIG. 14. The Idkit attempted to create a more holistic form of self-portraiture that acknowledged a sense of interiority.

Spence’s project of 1979, Beyond the Family Album, uses many of the same strategies as Kennedy’s identikit workshop to invert the paternal, educational and medical gaze. A history of her illnesses and anxieties are laid out chronically over multiple panels. Photographs are collaged with text written by Spence, alongside adverts of anti-depressants and images of idealised lives from children’s books FIG. 15. In one panel Spence presents three portraits of herself, one taken by Dennett (her partner at that time), another by the photographer Ed Barber and a medical photograph taken after she burned her face from a gas stove while cooking FIG. 16. They each, according to Spence’s text on the panel, represent alternative selves: womanliness, intelligence and stupidity. The text concludes with Spence asserting ‘we must learn to see beyond ourselves and the stereotypes offered to understand the invisible class and power relationships into which we are structured’. In Beyond the family album, Spence works against a stable or essentialised understanding of the self by exploring its formation and offering alternatives, asking ‘how could I represent the power structures in which we are formed as children, and which then pin us in place?’18 Through a process of revisiting, revising and recycling her family images, Spence puts identity into motion.

Spence met the artist Rosy Martin at a co-counselling session in North London in 1983, shortly after Spence had a lumpectomy as a treatment for breast cancer. They immediately started to explore the therapeutic potential of performance to camera and together developed a theory and practice of phototherapy.19 Whereas Spence had been exploring the potential of photography to confront illness narratives through works such as Cancer Shock (1983), in their phototherapy Spence and Martin focused instead on confronting psychic traumas. Like group therapeutic photography, phototherapy uses images to confront repressed memory and challenge self-identification. My Mother as a War worker FIG. 17, is a typical example of their approach. Spence embodies the memory of her mother, dressed in overalls and rolling a cigarette, having just returned from a shift at the factory. The work deals with Spence’s complex and estranged relationship with her own mother and her feelings of class shame linked to her own sense of class mobility. By re-embodying her mother, Spence returns to her formative experiences and seeks to ‘move through my resistance to expressing the rage I still felt towards my mother and thence into a grieving for, and acceptance of, her loss’.20

Rather than being conducted within a closed group, phototherapy is always practiced in pairs. Typically, the photographer counsels the subject to help them become the author of their own image. In a co-authored manifesto from 1984, Spence and Martin describe phototherapy in oppositional terms to typical portraiture. Rather than flattery, it produces ‘revelation’ and ‘replaces self-hatred for self-love’.21 It is transformative rather than documentarist in its intentions and is dialogic rather than monologic. In an interview with John Roberts, Spence gives an account of the experience:

Sitting in front of a photographer in the studio, as one would do in therapy, or psychodrama, is not about simply giving an account of what has happened to you, but a process in which you literally go back in time and re-inhabit your old memories. It’s like entering a film. A lot of feelings come up that in therapy you are then able to deal with rather than block.22

Martin, who still practices phototherapy, describes it as an attempt to role-play identities that are often hidden or denied. She states that ‘re-enactment phototherapy is about making visible process, change and transformation, by going to the source of an issue or an old trauma, enacting it and making a new ending, a new possibility, a new way of being visible’.23 These projects create a safe space where ‘safety, trust and acceptance’ are prioritised so that the subject can become the narrator FIG. 18. Both group photography and phototherapy enable their (often marginalised) subjects to be acknowledged, seen, represented and celebrated by rejecting top-down authority and offering a new model of self-determinism.

Spence’s and Martin’s work on self-representation can be situated within a lineage of feminist self-portraiture and role-play that includes Lynda Benglis, Alexis Hunter, Cindy Sherman and Lynn Hershmann Leeson.24 However, it diverts from these antecedents in its therapeutic intentions. Outside of the art-historical canon, the photographs of April Dawn Alison FIG. 19 and Albrecht Becker offer an interesting comparison in their deployment of performance to camera. Both Alison and Becker documented their own bodies, amassing significant archives over their lives. Becker’s photographic montages often included images of his heavily tattooed and modified body posing in front of the camera FIG. 20. Similarly, Alison’s 9,000 photographic self-portraits documented her experiences as a trans woman. Typically, we encounter Alison in her home, acting out various narrative tropes of femininity, from bondage to housework. The camera, for Alison and Becker, witnessed their rehearsal of identity. It is unlikely that either photographer ever intended their images be exhibited and their subsequent display therefore raises difficult questions. Although these bodies of work come from different contexts to that of Kennedy, Spence and Martin, they share affinities in the potential of the photographic portrait as a place where the subject can represent themselves on their own terms. For communities that are often erased publicly and historically, these photographs can provide a sense of agency that that allows them to be visible on their own terms. This is a qualified and tentative representation, exercised and experimented within the safe space of the home.

We can draw analogies between these works and Nicholas Mirzoeff’s formulation of the ‘right to see’ as a claim for autonomy and political subjectivity outside of the authority of visuality. Mirzoeff articulates visuality as a process of making history visible to authority. The visualiser – from the slave plantation to the battle field – is the overseer who has a literal and metaphorical vantage point. The ability to map, plan and strategise confers authority over others who have the inability to look back. If visuality defines, stabilises, categorises and names, then the right to look is not merely about seeing. It is about looking back into someone’s eyes and asking for solidarity and empathy, it is a claim for political subjectivity. If visuality is imperialist, institutional and masculine, the right to look – argues Mirzoeff – is often codified as feminine, lesbian, queer or trans. The photographs and strategies discussed thus far become a form of looking back, at others and the subject’s own bodies, outside the visuality of authority.

The last ten years has seen an explosion of self-portraiture. Much of this is transactional in nature, produced and distributed to satisfy the ‘like’ and ‘comment’ dynamic of social media. Whereas Kennedy’s interest in sharing photographs emerged at a time when family photography was kept within the privacy of the home, the internet has since become a hive of domestic photographs. Nathan Jurgenson states that this ‘social photograph’ is less important as a ‘stand-alone media object’ than as a ‘unit of communication’,25 shared with the aim of building online affinities. The image, without any aesthetic context, becomes pure content; a tool to build affinities within networks.

The artistic and political potential of the selfie, however, has been variously acclaimed and contested. For Anirban K. Baishya the ‘so-called amateur look of the selfie’ becomes an index of the real and authentic,26 while for David Lyon it is merely an internalised form of ‘self-surveillance’.27 As people continue to post online, images are increasingly registered by sophisticated computational actors and algorithms. An important question to raise here is whether online networks mimic the temporary communities created by Kennedy. Whereas the selfie suggests a certain amount of representative autonomy, the panoptic and visualising gaze of the photographer (or teacher, doctor etc.) is replaced by something more insidious, abstract and dispersed. In this context what does it mean to make yourself visible?

Spence’s autobiographical work connects with that of a younger generation of artists such as Erica Scourti and Petra Cortright, who make art on and about the internet.28 What these artists share is a diachronicity, as subjects are continually revisited and resignified. The meaning of the image becomes unfixed and mobile as it is modified through time. Throughout her practice, Spence returns to the same images, printing, cropping and collaging them in various configurations. A photograph of herself with an X on her chest, for which she restaged the moment she was diagnosed with breast cancer, is used extensively throughout the 1980s, for instance. Similarly, the selfie offers an opportunity to test out various personas, opposing the idea of a final and resolved identity. Aria Dean astutely critiques what she terms ‘selfie feminism’, defining a generation of typically young women artists, who are exploring the political potential of self-portraiture on social media. Dean accuses artists such as Alexandra Marzella, Arvida Bystrom, Molly Soda and Petra Collins as reproducing in their work a universalising assumption of the white female body. For Dean, the claims of selfie feminism have often excluded trans, non-binary, disabled and non-white bodies.

In a recent conversation between Patrizia Di Bello and the artists Oreet Ashery and Martin O’Brien,29 Di Bello suggested that Spence’s belief that democratising photographic production and distribution would lead to more diverse imagery has been disproven by the internet. We have more images but, one could argue, due to the speed of production and distribution, much less visual literacy or ability to critically appraise the images in front of us. While Kennedy, Spence and Martin used photography to create a broader repertory of the self and re-ascribe social narratives, social media has typically amplified certain power dynamics. The magazine page has been replaced by platforms, where the conditions in which imagery circulates is increasingly opaque; and the reader has been replaced by algorithms deployed to harvest as much data as possible from the user.

Spence died in 1992, at the dawn of this new era of distributive immediacy. Di Bello argues that, had she lived, Spence may well have replaced the camera for the laptop, the darkroom for an interest in coding. Group photography and phototherapy created a safe space that foregrounded vulnerability, therapeutic intent and an interdependent gaze that made the subject visible outside the visuality of authority. Although we can see certain similarities between the interactional and closed structures of group photography and the networked social media image, it is arguable whether online platforms replace the safe space of closed real-life community. The medical, photographic gaze has been replaced by algorithms that extract data from images and stabilise identity in more insidious ways. From commercial to military and policing contexts, surveillance is trained to make certain bodies more legible than others. We can look at recent reports on the racial biases of facial recognition software that illustrate the ways in which human prejudices are translated into seemingly neutral technological interfaces.30 The visual representation of minority and marginal voices –from Black, brown, queer or disabled subjects – is often qualified by demands for a visibility on the subject’s own terms. For communities who are often surveilled, criminalised and demonised, there remains a great urgency in creating images that open up space outside of a hegemonic gaze.

Contemporary artists such as Paul Mpagi Sepuya, Mari Katayama and Elle Pérez create photographic portraits that critically appraise the conventions of the genre. By exploring racial, Crip and queer perspectives, each invest portraiture with a political will, resisting erasure and seeking a visibility that is qualified by a more interdependent gaze. While none of them speaks to the educational and psychiatric contexts of Kennedy, they each explore the use of photographic portraiture to expand on an iconographic repertory of the self. Mpagi Sepuya’s 'The Conditions' FIG. 21 is a series of large-format photographs of the artist and others in front of the camera. Sepuya is typically in various states of undress and posed with his camera in front of a mirror. The frame crops his body, oscillating between revelation and obfuscation. Sepuya, a Black queer man, uses photography to offer a tender and tactical form of self-presentation, which, for David Velasco, ‘withdraws clarity, lucidity, lightness [. . .] away from the beguiling curse of transparency’.31 This is a space that ‘queerness has earned hard’.

Pérez documents the queer and trans community in New York FIG. 22. Although their photographs evoke a typical documentary aesthetic, they are often staged and created in collaboration with the subjects. The enigmatic quality of these images – a close-up of a tattoo, a chest compression binder FIG. 23 – suggests narratives without resolution. Perez’s photographs foreground a tenderness that speaks to issues of care and mutual support. The photographs are often tightly cropped and frame the body in fragments, sometimes collaged with texts and research. The general sense of intimacy embodies a set of experiences for the subjects without spectacularising their bodies for consumption.

In contrast, Mari Katayama’s photographs reify her own body, creating self-portraits that foreground her disabled body, creating sensual and elaborate photographic tableaus FIG. 24. Katayama was born with tibial hemimelia, which prevents growth in the lower legs. Her work plays with traditional representations of beauty, evoking rococo painting and symbolist fantasy, affirming an eroticism that rejects standardised depictions of disability. Her work attests to what Robert McRuer has called Crip counter-practices that ‘appropriate, inhabit, theatricalise, and re-signify the very terms of extravagant abjection used to disqualify them’.32 To paraphrase Spence, Katayama becomes the subject of her own enquiry rather than the object of someone else’s. She acts rather than is acted upon.

These examples of queer and Crip self-representations – like group and photo-therapy – offer an expanded imaginary of the self. For communities so often erased and defined without agency, photography can shift the direction of the gaze. Kennedy’s work, alongside the photographic practice of Jo Spence and Rosy Martin, created a more horizontal relationship between the photographer, subject and viewer. By embracing a broad range of visual strategies including; interdependence, roleplay and storytelling, they destabilised identity by recognising a more complex notion of personhood. Their photography offers a valuable lesson for us. In each of the practices discussed, photography is a tool for acknowledging different bodies' stories, reorienting the subject’s visibility outside of a visual regime of power. Group photography and phototherapy offer a form of representation as recognition. They remind us that looking into someone’s eyes is about more than just a look. It is an acknowledgment, an act of solidarity, a form of empathy and – on some level – an act of love.



This article was developed alongside the author's work on the exhibition Misbehaving Bodies: Jo Spence and Oreet Ashery at the Wellcome Collection, London, 30th May 2019–26th January 2020.

I would like to thank Anthony Day for his invaluable support and providing access to the Keith Kennedy archive as well as Keith Kennedy and Rosy Martin. I am grateful to Bárbara Rodríguez Muñoz for her comments on an early version of this essay and for her guidance on Critical Psychiatry.


About the author

George Vasey

is a curator and a writer. 



See also

Bad Infinity: Selected Writings
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Hannah Villiger: Amaze Me
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Mixing It Up: Painting Today
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The Shabbiness of Beauty
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