Humphrey Spender

Women in a Public Washhouse, Glasgow (1939 (prints made 1986))

About this artwork

Spender was sent to Glasgow in 1939 to photograph a story for ‘Picture Post’ magazine. It formed one of a series of articles concentrating on life in Britain’s industrial cities. His imagery, shot with an unobtrusive 35mm camera, captured various aspects of Glasgow life and continued his anthropological interest by recording everyday activities from across the social spectrum. Despite reporting high unemployment in the ship-building industry and a chronic housing shortage, the tone of the Picture Post article remained positive. There was “no friendlier city in Britain”, it concluded. However, as Spender later noted, Picture Post’s reasons for commissioning the story were driven by the desire to increase its readership in Scotland.

Humphrey Spender

Humphrey Spender

Spender initially studied architecture in London, but, following his qualification in 1933, he set up a photographic studio. After two years working at the Daily Mirror under the name Lensman, he photographed in Bolton for the Mass Observation movement (an independent body aiming to record the reality of daily life in Britain). In 1938 he joined the newly-founded, illustrated magazine 'Picture Post', where he took similar documentary photographs. Following a brief period of conscription in 1941, he spent the rest of the war as an official photographer and interpreter of photo-reconnaissance pictures. He abandoned photography after the war and went on to become a successful textile designer and tutor at the Royal College of Art, from 1953 to 1975. He was also a successful painter.