OCA Study Day – Photographer’s Gallery January 2017 Part 2 – Simon Fujiwara: Joanne

After having my mind blown by the artists on the floors below I took a quick wander upstairs to the 5th floor to peruse the work of Simon Fujiwara.

Simon Fujiwara’s installation and short film Joanne depicts the many faces of the artist’s former secondary school art teacher Joanne Salley, addressing issues around the representation of women in social media, the tabloid press and consumer culture. Joanne tells us:

I am a model, I am a teacher, I am a lover, I am an artist, I am a chameleon, I am a fighter, I am a person, I am a female

Forgive me, but if you want to make people respect you, forget the negative things that were said, and be thought of as more than ‘a body’ why open with ‘I am a model’? Something that is there to be stared at solely for aesthetic pleasure or as a commodity? Followed quite quickly by ‘I am a lover’ when all you wanted to do was reduce the commentary about a perceived ‘sex scandal’?

Opinions in the press seem to be divided, although most agree that it is ‘transparently manipulative’ and doesn’t pretend to portray Joanne the real woman. Instead what is does is underline the misplaced trust that we have in the power of the image to project ‘us,’ but the harder and deeper we look the more we realise that the images we see are often mere illusions.

In my opinion, what Fujiwara and Joanne aspired to achieve back fired slightly. I think in the film they tried too hard, I found Joanne to be irritating and just wanted to shout ‘oh get over yourself woman!’ Maybe a tad unfair, I don’t know, at the time not really knowing all the back story, I only gleaned information from the gallery wall, that basically Simon Fujiwara teamed up with a former teacher at his old school, Joanne Salley, who was once the subject of a tabloid newspaper scandal.

On digging about a bit, apparently she hit the headlines in 2011 when pupils found and distributed private topless photographs of her, taken by a female photography teacher, on a memory stick forgotten in a school studio. Seriously? I know we are all human and mistakes happen, but Ms Salley – you were an adult, working at Harrow school for Boys, you knowingly posed topless and were careless with the results…Rightly or wrongly, and despite the feminist movement, women today are still more harshly judged for ‘moral wrong-doings’ than men, so if you are going to get your tits out be prepared for them to go further afield!


As a former Ms Ireland, and former girlfriend of Matt Dawson, no doubt Ms Salley was quite used to being in the limelight, slightly bawdy behaviour, parading her body about in skimpy costumes, and being judged on her appearance – you can’t have it both ways. Judge me on how I look, but please don’t judge me on how I look. There is more to me than just my body?  And THEN have huge photographs put up on display in a gallery that serve only to portray you as a fit attractive young woman. On wanting to avoid the stereotyping she fell neatly back into them, a modern day parody of the artists on display a few floors down.  Although I get the use of visual and narrative tropes to explore the underlying hypocrisy of the press and a traumatic and emotional story it came across as ‘Bland, banal and weirdly repulsive’….thanks to journalist Adrian Searle for that gem.

On looking at the newspaper reports at the time none of them said anything really cruel, Harrow supported her, she admits after returning to school the boys were also supportive and respectful. In 2012 she got to tell her side of the story, which was also polite and respectful. I think any labels in her head were of her own making. I reckon 99% of the people going to the exhibition thought ‘who?’ rather than OMG it’s HER!



Fujiwara and Joanne made this film exploring the issues she faced in the wake of the scandal, aiming to present a more complex picture of her, and I ask why? Five years on and most people will have forgotten it, forgotten her. As they say yesterday’s news is today’s fish n chip wrapping. The cynical part of me thinks maybe that’s why, maybe she wants to relaunch her TV career? It didn’t come across as a ‘the press don’t respect women’ it came across as woe is me…all me, me, me….

I go back to my back fired comment as every review I found made a reference to her ‘shame’ which she was trying to get past:

Simon Fujiwara to Make a Film About His Former Art Teacher Shamed by Tabloids
Joanne Salley resigned after pupils and the tabloids discovered her nude photos.

Simon Fujiwara: Joanne review – a weird journey out of sex scandal, via avocado

No longer able to choose which face she wished to present to the world, she would instead become branded as the ‘topless teacher’ – a label she worries she will be unable to shake off no matter what else she does.

Every interview he gave sounds like this was a serious attempt to show a real person; in the film Joanne states: ‘The point is for people to get a sense of the real me.’ But the perfectly made up laughing, posing person on the screen seemed totally fake? Or was that the intention?

Adrian Searle of the Guardian summed it up perfectly for me:

This installation points to complexities that can’t or won’t be unravelled. Joanne is a hollowed-out being, the nuances of her personality and her authenticity as coiffed as her hair. She is a flesh-and-blood armature, on which a self has being remodelled and rebuilt, a “real me” replicant of Joanne Salley. Someone lurks inside Fujiwara’s disturbing portrait, but what we are given hardly amounts to a person at all.

Fujiwara also wanted to raise questions about ‘how empathy works.’ Well…my empathy works along the lines of, if you stick your hand in the fire and get third degree burns I will empathise with the pain you feel, but also shake my head and say its a bloody fire what did you expect?

What did I take away from this exhibition

  • the idea that manipulation is a two way street
  • multi-media installations are on the increase
  • big isn’t always better
  • may be I am not as empathetic as I thought, or maybe I don’t suffer fools gladly…








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