Humphrey Spender's Humanist Landscapes:
Photo-documents, 1932-1942

Deborah Frizzell

Publicaton Date
May 1997
Standard Number
Yale University Press
176 pages

Working for the new illustrated weekly magazine Picture Post and for Mass Observation, a project to survey British society, photographer Humphrey Spender (born 1910) produced a body of powerful and poignant photographs in the decade from 1932 to 1942. His photographs embody with lucidity, detail, and breadth an entire complex of social relations in Depression-era and wartime Britain. This generously illustrated book is the first to examine Spender's photography in depth. Deborah Frizzell shows how Spender's influential work came to play a key role in the development of British documentary and photojournalism.

Frizzell, who has worked closely with Spender in preparing the book, analyzes the aesthetic, critical, and art historical importance of his work within the genesis of British photojournalism; the place of his work within the broader dialogue of the British documentary movement; and the functions of his work within the context of the Mass Observation cultural anthropology project. She discusses how his merging of individual drama with an evolving social consciousness is at the heart of the British documentary movement and is paralleled in the prose and poetry of the Auden Generation and especially in the concerns of Stephen Spender, Humphrey's older brother. Illustrated with some seventy of Spender's own photographs, the volume also offers reproductions of drawings, prints, and paintings by such contemporaries as Humphrey Jennings, William Coldstream, and Graham Bell, and photographs by Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and Bill Brandt.

This book accompanies the first exhibit in the United States devoted to Spender's work, to take place at the Yale Center for BritishArt from September 10 through November 9, 1997.