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.

Life and Style
tech

Sales of the tablet are set to fall again say analysts

News
A Brazilian wandering spider
news

World's most lethal spider found under a bunch of bananas

News
people
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in the win over QPR
footballInternet reacts to miss shocker for Liverpool striker
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Voices
Sol Campbell near his home in Chelsea
voices
News
i100
News
Kimi the fox cub
newsBurberry under fire from animal rights group - and their star, Kimi
Sport
Fans of Palmeiras looks dejected during the match between Palmeiras and Santos
footballPalmeiras fan killed trying to 'ambush' bus full of opposition supporters
Arts and Entertainment
filmsIt's nearly a wrap on Star Wars: Episode 7, producer reveals
Life and Style
fashion
News
i100
News
<p>Jonathan Ross</p>
<p>Jonathan Ross (or Wossy, as he’s affectionately known) has been on television and radio for an extraordinarily long time, working on a seat in the pantheon of British presenters. Hosting Friday Night with Jonathan Ross for nine years, Ross has been in everything from the video game Fable to Phineas and Ferb. So it’s probably not so surprising that Ross studied at Southampton College of Art (since rebranded Southampton Solent), a university known nowadays for its media production courses.</p>
<p>However, after leaving Solent, Ross studied History at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, now part of the UCL, a move that was somewhat out of keeping with the rest of his career. Ross was made a fellow of the school in 2006 in recognition of his services to broadcasting.</p>
TV

Rumours that the star wants to move on to pastures new

News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey indulge in some racing at a Point to Point
tvNew pictures promise a day at the races and a loved-up Lady Rose
News
people

Comedian says he 'never laughed as hard as I have writing with Rik'

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Lead Teacher of Thinking School Drive Team and Year 3 Form teacher

Competitive: Notting Hill Prep School: Spring Term 2015 Innovative, ambitious ...

Programmatic Business Development Manager

£35 - £40000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: As the Programmatic Business Develo...

Year 5 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Hull: Randstad Education is currently recruitin...

Year 6 Teacher - January start

£90 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Randstad Education are looking fo...

Day In a Page

Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

Terry Venables column

Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

Michael Calvin's Inside Word

Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past