Mass-Observation and Visual Culture: Depicting Everyday Lives in Britain, 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

Mass-Observation and Visual Culture

Depicting Everyday Lives in Britain, 1st Edition

By Lucy D. Curzon


182 pages | 8 Color Illus. | 21 B/W Illus.

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Hardback: 9781472436504
pub: 2016-11-11
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Mass-Observation and Visual Culture: Depicting Everyday Lives in Britain critically analyses the role that visual culture played in the early development of Mass-Observation, the innovative British anthropological research group founded in 1937. The group’s production and use of painting, collage, photography, and other media illustrates not only the broad scope of Mass-Observation’s efforts to document everyday life, but also, more specifically, the centrality of visual elements to its efforts at understanding national identity in the 1930s.

Although much interest has previously focused on Mass-Observation’s use of written reports and opinion surveys, as well as diaries that were kept by hundreds of volunteer observers, this book is the first full-length study of the group’s engagement with visual culture. Exploring the paintings of Graham Bell and William Coldstream; the photographs of Humphrey Spender; the paintings, collages, and photographs of Julian Trevelyan; and Humphrey Spender’s photographs and widely recognized ‘Mass-Observation film’, Spare Time, among other sources, Mass-Observation and Visual Culture: Depicting Everyday Lives in Britain positions these works as key sources of information with regard to illuminating the complex character of British identity during the Depression era.


Winner of the Historians of British Art Book Prize for a single-authored book with a subject after 1800!

Table of Contents





List of Illustrations



Introduction: Unprofessional Painting: Mass-Observation and Visual Culture


  1. Another Place in Time: Humphrey Spender’s Northern Photographs
  2. Julian Trevelyan: ‘Jekyll and Hyde’
  3. The Euston Road in Worktown
  4. May the Twelfth and Spare Time

Conclusion: ‘Signs that Say What You Want Them to Say’: Mass-Observation in Contemporary Contexts



About the Author

Lucy Curzon holds a PhD in Visual Culture Studies and is Associate Professor of Art History at the University of Alabama. She has previously published work on contemporary portrait painting, as well as on the Ashington Group and Humphrey Spender.

About the Series

British Art: Histories and Interpretations since 1700

This series exists to publish new and rigorous scholarship of the highest quality on British and Irish art after 1700. Proposals will offer new bodies of research or new interpretations, ideally both, and should demonstrate a clear awareness of the proposed volume's contribution to current and wider art-historical debates. We define British art broadly to mean art made in the British Isles or by British artists, and particularly welcome proposals which address the topic from international or comparative cultural perspectives. We also welcome proposals for intellectually ambitious studies concerning more localised areas, issues and themes within British and Irish art during this period. Above all, we encourage proposals for books on British and Irish art which transcend the descriptive in order to offer a broader methodological and/or historiographical contribution to the discipline of art history.

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
ART / General
ART / European
HISTORY / Europe / Great Britain
HISTORY / Modern / 20th Century
POLITICAL SCIENCE / World / European
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Anthropology / General