Founded in 1937, Mass Observation started as a radical social science experiment and is considered to be one of the most intriguing surveys of its kind in the 20th century.

Mass Observation was the brainchild of anthropologist Tom Harrisson, journalist and poet Charles Madge and Surrealist painter and filmmaker Humphrey Jennings.

The group was unhappy with the way the nation was being represented by the media and politicians and decided to gather information that would better illuminate the lives, opinions and daily habits of the British people.

A national panel of trained fieldworkers and amateur observers was assigned topics for study, with themes ranging from pub culture, air raids, shopping habits and thoughts on happiness.

Although the original organisation disbanded in the mid-50s, it was relaunched in 1981 as The Mass Observation Project, pursuing similar aims but with greater emphasis on individual voices and personal histories. The project continues to this day.

The gallery is showing photographs, written accounts and ephemera from the Mass Observation Archive, dating between 1937-48.

It includes Michael Wickham's pictures of crowds queuing for the V&A's industrial and product design exhibition, photographs of experiments in art appreciation involving local miners in County Durham and John Hinde's Exmoor Village, which hoped to stimulate foreign commercial interests in Britain by celebrating rural English village life.

The Photographers' Gallery

16-18 Ramillies Street, London, Greater London, W1F 7LW

020 7087 9300


Opening times

Daily, 10am – 6pm (Thu until 8pm, Sun from 11.00am)

Reduced price entry with National Art Pass

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