Truth is Stranger than Fiction By Humphrey Spender - September 23rd 1937

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  • Copyright Bolton Council
  • Image ref. 1993.83.01.27
  • Print ref. INV:15780
  • Print ref. INV:19209
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A painted sign for a palmist at Bolton open market with the words ‘Truth is Stranger than Fiction.’ This is one of the most iconic of the Worktown photographs taken by Humphrey Spender. It can be read as an expression of Mass Observation’s philosophy: that when you really examine the seemingly dull details of everyday life they turn out to be more fascinating than any made up story.

This is also one of Humphrey Spender’s favourite photographs which he describes in the film Stranger than Fiction. The title of the film comes, of course, from this photograph:

‘Yes, there’s a photograph, one of my favourite photographs.…where I came across this notice, this rather primitive beautiful painting, with words “Truth is Stranger Than Fiction” and I thought this really described what I was after, what I was doing, was to describe a certain kind of truth. And indeed it seemed to me that I didn’t have to wait long before individual people turned up who were in fact rather stranger than fiction. Here they are in the photograph.’

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