So yesterday we went to the Mass Observation exhibition at the Photographers Gallery. Many many years ago in Huddersfield library I found a book of photos from the Mass Observation project. The work, principally by Humphrey Spender and Humphrey Jennings left a lasting impression on me; to a point it is why my limited company is called Mass Communication. The images were records of ‘ordinary people’ going about their lives in the 1930s.
This was a considered project but not always easy, photography was in many ways an intrusion and to some – to the many unemployed in particular – it was seen as an unwelcome threat.
Today street photography is a genre, but then much photography is enacted on the street.
Recently I read that photographs shouldn’t be taken at arm’s length, it isn’t something I like (I have to put my glasses on). More importantly though for me looking through a camera is an intimate act, this intimacy is lost with a screen. Whilst at the exhibition my daughter disappeared and it transpired that she had found a camera obscura on the floor between the two MO installations. The mother of all screens, on wheels so you could focus it.
Our journey to the West End took us as ever down to Soho and Chinatown, there was a lot of photography going on not many cameras though, most of it at arm’s length but strangely accessible and public.