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Humphrey Spender (1910 - 2005)

Humphrey Spender

Humphrey Spender

Humphrey Spender was a pioneer of the documentary photography style that suited the Mass-Observation methods of gathering information.


He first became aware of this form of candid photography while studying in Germany in the late 1920s. New technology and smaller cameras were making it possible for a photographer to be less noticeable in public. This allowed for more intimate social documentary.


After completing his studies at the Architectural Association School in 1933, a career path that he was not enthusiastic about, Spender decided to set up as a photographer. By 1935 his photographs were appearing weekly in the Daily Mirror under the alias of "Lensman".


Spender joined the Mass-Observation team in 1937 taking his first photographs of Bolton in the Spring. He used what was at the time cutting-edge technology in the form of an unobtrusive 35mm Leica camera.


He carried as little equipment as possible and often concealing it with a mackintosh, anxious to make himself "invisible" to his subjects. He recalled that the occasional Boltonian would react angrily if they discovered him taking a photograph.


He found the experience of taking documentary photos particularly stressful and disliked the intrusiveness of his work. After the Second World War these anxieties persuaded him to all but abandon photography in favour of painting and textile design. Spender continued painting until his death in 2005.