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Humphrey Spender

(1910—2005) photojournalist and artist


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(1910–2005), London-born English photographer, educated at Freiburg University, Germany, the Architectural Association School, London, and the London School of Economics, where he studied anthropology. Self-taught as a photographer, he had access to the latest photographic technology through his brother Michael, who worked for the Leitz Company. In the 1930s and 1940s he became one of Britain's leading proponents of documentary photography as a tool for understanding society by portraying ordinary people. Strongly influenced by the German New Objectivity movement, he worked as a staff photographer for the Daily Mirror (1936–8) and Picture Post (1938–41 and 1946–9). He became official photographer for the group of poets, documentary film-makers, photographers, painters, and social scientists who formed Mass-Observation in 1937 as a means of promoting social democracy by recording in detail the lives of ordinary people. His books Britain in the '30s (1977) and Worktown People: Photographs from Northern England 1937–38 (1981) illustrate his technique of using a concealed camera to capture his subjects unawares. Spender joined the army in 1941 and served as a War Office photographer, then a photo interpreter, Theatre Intelligence Service (1942–6). After the war, he moved into textile design and painting, becoming a tutor in textile design at the Royal College of Art (1953–75), and a visiting lecturer at various design schools in and around London (1960–75).

From The Oxford Companion to the Photograph in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Photography and Photographs.


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