"Like walking through an empty house,"

Saw Slint play last night in the Roxy Theater on Tremont Street. They came on at about 9:30 and played until 11:15. Each song done with its own methods, beautifully played with a new bassist and added guitarist in a wall of double guitars, sometimes three for feedback choruses, each musician in his own space on stage. During one instrumental, vocalist Brian McMahon crouched down on the left side of the stage behind a curtain & put his head down, listening or resting, his vocals were often more spoken word than sung. They finished with "Good Morning, Captain" which was dramatic and loud. Even though I'd known they'd been closing with that song elsewhere. It resonated with personal, generational and musical history, the shouts into the microphone of "I miss you!" maybe acknowledged nostalgia. Though none of the band said anything to Boston, just music played well. The louder the amps were tuned the better.


Humphrey Spender, Lens to British Poor, Dies at 94

The New York Times
20 March 2005

Humphrey Spender, a prominent English artist known for his photographs documenting the lives of ordinary Britons in the bleakest years of the Depression, died on March 11 at his home in Ulting, Essex. He was 94.

The cause was heart failure, his wife, Rachel, said.

Mr. Spender, who began his career as a photojournalist, was a pioneer of the British documentary photography movement of the 1930's and 40's. A brother of the poet Stephen Spender, he became known in later years as a textile designer and painter.

The Independent of London last week called Mr. Spender "one of the outstanding chroniclers of British life between the wars."

Working for the weekly magazine Picture Post, and, in the late 1930's, for Mass Observation, an anthropological survey of British culture and class, Mr. Spender roamed down-and-out English towns like Bolton and Blackpool. Shooting in black and white, his Leica camera often concealed beneath his coat, he photographed people as they went about their daily business: on buses and in the street, at home and at work, at the markets and in the pubs. He shot christenings and funerals, men in the mines, women hanging out washing.

Somewhat like Walker Evans in America, Mr. Spender offered a glimpse into a world that for upper-class Britons was largely unknown, if not outright taboo.

"He had really been sheltered from aspects of the daily life of most working-class Britons," Deborah Frizzell, an art historian and the author of Humphrey Spender's Humanist Landscapes: Photo-Documents, 1932-1942 (Yale Center for British Art, 1997), said in an interview. "There was no sense in the middle and upper classes of what daily life was really like."

John Humphrey Spender was born in London on April 19, 1910, the youngest of four children of Harold Spender, a Liberal journalist and politician. (Mr. Spender disliked the name John and never used it.) As a young man, he studied art history at the University of Freiburg, and the influence of the New Objectivity, the artistic movement of Weimar-era Germany, which emphasized realism, industrialism and a stark approach to its subjects, is clearly evident in his photographs. He later qualified as an architect, but did not practice.

In mid-1930's, Mr. Spender, who had been taking pictures since he was a boy, established a photography studio in London with his lover Bill Edmiston. Around this time, a friend who was a magistrate commissioned Mr. Spender to photograph depressed conditions in London's East End, and in 1937, he became the official photographer for Mass Observation. Like the Works Progress Administration in the United States, Mass Observation sought to document the social conditions of the Depression era. Mr. Spender also famously photographed his brother Stephen and members of his circle, among them the novelist Christopher Isherwood.

Though his work for Mass Observation occupied just a few months in 1937 and '38, it is for these photos, rediscovered by a new audience in the 1970's, that Humphrey Spender is best known. In one series of images, shot in a coal-mining town, Mr. Spender takes the viewer from the sooty black of men at work underground to the shocking white of a row of freshly laundered garments, painstakingly washed by the miners' wives and hung to dry in the open air.

Many of these images are collected in Worktown People: Photographs From Northern England, 1937-38 (Falling Wall Press, 1982), edited by Jeremy Mulford. Mr. Spender's other photojournalism is collected in Lensman: Photographs, 1932-1952 (Chatto & Windus, 1987).

In the early years of World War II, Mr. Spender continued his work, though he was not so much a war photographer as a wartime photographer, shooting the gritty daily routines of servicemen and civilians. In 1941, he became a photo interpreter for the War Office.

After 1952, in part because of his distaste for the subterfuge that documentary photography can require, Mr. Spender turned to painting, and to designing textiles and wallpaper; he taught for many years in the textile department of the Royal College of Art.

Like many members of the artistic circles in which he and his brother traveled, Mr. Spender was throughout his life comfortably, if quietly, bisexual. He had enduring marriages, first, in 1937, to Margaret Low, who died in 1945 and whose death is commemorated in Stephen Spender's poem "Elegy for Margaret"; then, in 1948, to Pauline Wynn, who died in 2003. The same year, Mr. Spender married his longtime companion, the former Rachel Hewitt, who survives him, along with an adopted son from his first marriage, David, of Michigan; a son from his second marriage, Quentin, of Oxford; and four grandchildren.

(The New York Times, 20 March 2005)


In April, I will be posting selections from Juan Sánchez Peláez's Aire sobre el aire at Antología. Thanks to a link at Crucero 5 y 10 I noticed the Mexican magazine Letras Libres has free access again. I found excellent essays on Rafael Cadenas and Juan Sánchez Peláez and a Spanish version of Derek Walcott's essay on G. Cabrera Infante.

H. Yepez recently discussed the effect of the image in the Americas, highlighting 4 countries:

"Guy Debord wrote that the common backdrop of the spectacle was misery. I believe that he was referring not only to economic misery but, above all, existential misery. It's enough to notice what societies on the American continent are more visibly sunken into the televised spectacle in order to realize which ones are the most miserable: Peru, Mexico, the United States, Venezuela." (See 14.3.05 post.)


An account at Vcrisis of a recent evening of Chavista marketing here in Cambridge.

("Hello Venezuela v Hello Propaganda!")

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