Maurice Broomfield: Photographer who documented British industry from the 1950s to the 1970s

Maurice Broomfield was a photographer whose work documenting the inner landscape of industrial Britain from the 1950s to the 1970s has recently been rediscovered. He succeeded through his striking photographs in revealing both the grit and beauty of the people, factories and processes which manufacture the everyday objects around us.

He was born in Draycott, Derbyshire in 1916. His father was a lacemaker. After leaving school at 15, Broomfield found work as a lathe operator, producing components on the Rolls Royce assembly line. At the same time he took evening classes at Derby College of Art to learn the techniques of drawing and painting which would inform his later work. It was during a visit to Derby Museum with his father that he first saw the paintings of Joseph Wright RA. The illumination in works such as Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump (1768) brought an aspect of wonder to otherwise ordinary industrial scenes and provided some of the inspiration for Broomfield's distinctive use of lighting in his photographs. As he later explained, "I love lighting, it changes everything. It creates moods; it's like a painting material."

Making the transition from manufacturing to design, Broomfield created packaging and displays for the confectionery company Rowntrees, by now already including photography in his work. In the summer of 1946 the International Student Service sponsored Broomfield and his friend Stephen Peet to make a trip across Europe, recording student life on film and in photos. Peet's Student of Prague, 1946 film is an enduring record of their visit to post-war Czechoslovakia.

On returning to Britain, Broomfield received a commission from ICI to photograph one of their factories. While owners would traditionally have wanted long shots, to demonstrate the size of their production spaces, he sought instead to emphasise the detail of the goods being made and the people involved in their manufacture. In a recent BBC interview he recalled: "It was very difficult to convince the owners and the directors of these companies that we should concentrate on the products that they were making... revealing the workmanship and the pride and joy of making quite wonderful products."

There followed 30 years of industrial photography during which Broomfield used the factory floor as his stage, the machinery and workers playing their roles in recounting visually the stories of products and their origins. Through the use of unusual angles or lighting, the viewer would have a new appreciation of what might otherwise be a mundane subject. For example, his Testing Nylon Stockings (1957) sees the item in question stretched on an inverted "leg" at the front of the scene, with the lab technician posed behind, in a picture reminiscent of the avant-garde photographer Man Ray.

Critical appreciation for his innovative and unusual work was quick to arrive. Between 1954 and 1960 Broomfield was commissioned by the Financial Times to create a weekly image for the newspaper. Then, throughout the 1950s to 1970s, he was a frequent contributor to photographic magazines and a winner of awards including Merit for Industrial Photography in the Institute of British Photographers' Exhibition (1954), Royal Photographic Society Hood Medal (1958), World Fair of International Photography (1964) and Industrial Photographer of the Year (1974). From the late '60s he was part of the advisory committee at the Harrow School of Photography.

Following the death of his wife Sonja in 1982, he ceased his photographic work and once again took up his first love, painting. He met his second wife, Suzy Thompson-Coon, on a painting course at West Dean and lived with her in Emsworth, West Sussex.

The beginning of the new millennium saw a resurgence of interest in his work, fuelled by a thirst for information about the formerly great British manufacturing industry, which had fallen into decline since the Thatcher period. In 2000 the designer Sir Paul Smith hosted an installation of Broomfield's works at his Floral Street shop in Covent Garden. Smith commented that the photography "...captures the real heart of what was a booming but harsh time for the UK. Finding inspiration and creativity in gritty surroundings of every day work is inspiring in itself." A further retrospective, "New Look for Industry; Photographs from Post-War Britain", was held at London's Science Museum in 2007.

The monograph Maurice Broomfield – Photographs was published last year, containing more than 50 images. Martin Barnes, Senior Curator of Photographs at the Victoria & Albert Museum, described the photos as having a "...precious status as important records that can also be enjoyed as the work of a most discerning artistic eye."

Broomfield's most recent shows have been at the Silk Mill, Derby, and Chichester's Pallant House Gallery, this year. Simon Martin, the curator of "A New Look At Industry" at Pallant House, noted: "When we saw the photographs we were just drawn to their extraordinary originality. They are such strikingly modern and inventive photographs which capture a moment of British industrial history at its height."

His son Nick Broomfield is a documentary film-maker, known for his cinema verité style, clearly influenced by his father's photographic techniques. Of his own life and work Maurice Broomfield said: "I enjoy photographing people at work, and the many experiences whilst doing this have enriched my life. To be living on this planet, is to me, the greatest gift possible."

Marcus Williamson

Maurice Broomfield, photographer: born Draycott, Derbyshire 2 February 1916; Member of the British Institute of Professional Photographers 1947; Fellow of the British Institute of Professional Photographers 1958; Honorary Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society 1984; married 1947 Sonja Lagusova (died 1982; one son, one daughter), 1987 Suzy Thompson-Coon; died Chichester 4 October 2010.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Supporting role: at the Supreme Court, Rhodes was accompanied by a famous friend, the actor Benedict Cumberbatch
booksPianist James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to stop the injunction of his memoirs
Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan
filmDheepan, film review
Steven Gerrard scores for Liverpool
Tattoo enthusiast Cammy Stewart poses for a portrait during the Great British Tattoo Show
In picturesThe Great British Tattoo Show
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?