firstsite celebrates the work of the Essex-based photographer and artist, Humphrey Spender (b. London 1910; d. near Maldon, Essex, 2005).
Spender was a social documentary photographer, producing a remarkable series of street-life surveys that captured the lives of ordinary people in 1930s Britain. He was one of the first in the UK to use a 35mm camera for documentary journalism, which allowed him to spend time amongst his subjects without being noticed. This exhibition features a series of photographs documenting street, pub and family life in the working class communities of Stepney, Whitechapel and Lambeth in London in the mid-to late 1930s.
During the 1930s, Spender worked as a photojournalist for the Daily Mirror and the popular weekly magazine Picture Post. He also became involved with the social research organisation Mass Observation, who employed him as a photographer to document the customs and habits of the British people. Following the Second World War, during which he served as a war photographer, he devoted himself mainly to painting, wallpaper and textile design, and taught at the Royal College of Art from 1956 to 1976. In 1968, he commissioned the architect Richard Rogers to build him a house and studio near Maldon, Essex, where he lived until his death in 2005.