Simon Watney

Simon Watney is a British writer, art historian, and AIDS activist. He published Policing Desire: Pornography, AIDS and the Media in 1986. In 1987, he brought together everyone he knew who was interested in both community-based photographic practice and AIDS, including Jo Spence, with whom he had a longstanding friendship. Watney was a close friend of Spence, and saw both the importance of her work on cancer and its relation to the wider cultural response to HIV/AIDS. With Spence, and Patricia Holland, he edited Photography/Politics Two, a book of projects and essays reflecting debates about photographic education and practice. Like Spence, Watney encouraged an intersectional approach to understanding experiences of illness, as well as exemplified activist alliances across communities. His later work, Imagine Hope: Gay Identity and AIDS (2002) has been described as looking at “ the representation of AIDS in the mass media and in the arts, and the encouragement of a wider understanding of the personal impact of AIDS and its social experience, particularly among those social groups living with the highest levels of illness, death and mourning.” Watney’s 2020 interview with Huffington Post was titled, Reimagining Hope.

Three individuals stand against an ornate pier rail, all wearing suglasses and the water is behind them.
Photo of Jo Spence, Simon Watney, and Patricia Holland, on the Palace Pier at Brighton, 1983. Courtesy of Simon Watney.

About This Site

A Picture of Health: Jo Spence, a Politics of Disability and Illness is a multi-pronged project curated by Kenny Fries and Elisabeth Frost.

In 1986 the British artist, educator, and activist Jo Spence (1934-1992) described the question fundamental to her work: “how to represent a body in crisis.” Spence’s work reveals powerful political and artistic responses to the experience of inhabiting such a body and is as timely as ever. This website places her work in the context of the lived experience of chronic illness and of contemporary Disability Arts.


The Artists

Links to artists, with an image representing each artist that is explored in further detail on the artist's page.