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Ingrid Swenson

British investigative organization founded in 1937 to examine aspects of popular culture. Although Mass Observation was neither an art movement nor a particular school or style, it did attract artists, photographers and film makers who were involved in realist, Surrealist and social documentary practices. Anthropologist Tom Harrisson (1911–76), poet and journalist Charles Madge (b 1912) and painter, poet and documentary film maker Humphrey Jennings (1907–50) announced its formation by calling for volunteers to observe and gather data on subjects ranging from anti-Semitism to the aspidistra cult.

The methodology of Mass Observation was threefold: inviting the ‘masses’ to send in diary-form reports of their everyday lives; gathering scientifically observed data from full- and part-time volunteers; and involving poets, writers and artists by demanding their creative responses to ‘ordinary life’. By 1938 Mass Observation boasted over 1500 observers. Madge and Jennings in particular were involved in British ...

Article

Astrid Schmetterling

(b Miesbach, Upper Bavaria, Aug 21, 1894; d Keilberg, nr Aschaffenburg, Feb 25, 1982).

German painter, collagist, printmaker and photographer. He studied briefly at the Akademie der Bildenden Künste in Munich (1913–14) and in 1913 began to make Expressionist woodcuts, which were published in magazines such as Die Aktion (Berlin), Die Weissen Blätter (Leipzig) and Sirius (Zurich). From 1915 to 1920 he lived in Zurich and Geneva, where he was associated with the Dada movement. He continued creating woodcuts but also made reliefs, paintings and collages from newspaper cuttings and other printed papers. At the same time he became interested in abstracting photography and using it in a more metaphoric way. In 1918, while living in Geneva, he created his first ‘schadographs’, such as Untitled (Fish; 1918; New York, MOMA), contact prints of collages and objects on photosensitive paper. Like Man Ray’s rayographs and Moholy-Nagy’s photograms, these cameraless photographs reproduced the negative image of the textures placed on them, creating a new form of representation....

Article

M. Sue Kendall

(b Kovno, Lithuania, Sept 12, 1898; d New York, March 14, 1969).

American painter, photographer and lithographer of Lithuanian birth. He was born into a family of Jewish craftsmen who emigrated in 1906, settling in New York. From 1913 to 1917 Shahn served as an apprentice in Hessenberg’s Lithography Shop in Manhattan, and in the evenings he attended high school in Brooklyn. In 1916 he enrolled in a life-drawing class at the Art Students League. After studying biology, first at New York University (1919) and then at City College, New York (1919–22), he entered the National Academy of Design to pursue a career as an artist (1923).

After marrying in 1922, Shahn travelled with his wife to North Africa, Spain, Italy and France (1924–5; 1927–9), where he studied both the art of the past and the works of Matisse, Dufy, Rouault, Picasso and Klee. On his return from Europe in 1925 they moved to Brooklyn Heights. There he met Walker Evans, with whom he began to share a studio. Also in ...

Article

(b London, April 19, 1910; d Malden, Essex, March 11, 2005).

English photographer, painter and textile designer. He studied architecture at the Albert-Ludwigs Universität, Freiburg, in Germany (1927–8) and at the Architectural Association School in London (1929–34). During his time in Germany he absorbed the influence of the Neue Sachlichkeit movement and of photographic developments in illustrated journals such as the Berliner Illustrierte Zeitung and Arbeiter-Illustrierte-Zeitung. Though largely self-taught, he did learn photographic techniques from his brother Michael Spender, an employee of the Leitz camera factory. Among other jobs he worked as a commercial and portrait photographer (1934–9), and as a staff photographer for the Daily Mirror (1936–8) and for Picture Post (1946–9). From its foundation in 1937 until 1939 he was the official photographer for the Mass Observation project, which brought together painters, poets, social scientists and film makers to record the details of everyday British life. During the project Spender worked with a concealed camera so that the scenes he captured were entirely natural, as in ...