Robert Blomfield, 'Boys on scooters', photograph
Robert Blomfield, 'Boys on scooters', photograph

‘As If The Past Was Still Going On Somewhere’: Examining Robert Blomfield’s Edinburgh of Yesterday

Title:
'Close Up: Robert Blomfield' (Online Talk)

Virtual Event

Dates:
25 Mar 2021 –
Edinburgh
Edinburgh & the Lothians

Street Level Photoworks, Glasgow, hosted the online talk ‘Close Up: Robert Blomfield‘ on their Facebook Live page on 25 March 2021. The event celebrates the life and photographic legacy of Robert Blomfield  (1938 – 2020) and coincides with the publication of the book ‘Robert Blomfield: Edinburgh 1957 – 1966‘.

Robert Blomfield was active in the field of Street Photography from the late 1950s to the early 1970s and took photographs of Edinburgh, London, Glasgow, Newcastle, Sheffield, and the early years of Glastonbury Festival. Robert studied Medicine in Edinburgh from the late 1950s and went on to be a family doctor, however photography was his personal passion. He admired Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Doisneau ‘whose work challenged him to see more … (and be seen less)’ – taken from brief biography on robertblomfield.co.uk

'Robert Blomfield, An Unseen Eye Film by Stuart Edwards', photograph
‘Robert Blomfield, An Unseen Eye Film by Stuart Edwards’, photograph

The first part of this online event is a showing of the 2018 short documentary film made by Stuart Edwards, ‘Robert Blomfield, An Unseen Eye‘, which formed part of the City Art Centre Edinburgh exhibition ‘Edinburgh Street Photography, An Unseen Archive‘ from November 2018 to March 2019.

The online discussion that follows is chaired by Margaret Findlay of the City Art Centre, with Robert’s brother Johnny and two of Robert’s sons, Ed and Will Blomfield. The Blomfield family partnered with the City Art Centre to mount the Edinburgh exhibition, and Robert’s photographs are now progressively being archived by his sons. Edinburgh street scenes date from 1957 to 1969, and are largely black and white (he later went on to use colour slide film).

Robert says in the film, ‘I didn’t have to set the stage, the stage set itself, the picture was presented in front of me… it was a doddle.’ In fact, he had great timing in capturing the moment and skill in composition of the shot. He often captured dramatic qualities of light and shade and there is humour and affection in many of the pictures. Looking back at these photographs Robert remarks ‘I feel an enormous amount of affection towards Auld Reekie (the affectionate name for the city)’. That comes across strongly in his photographs, and as Ed Blomfield observes about the film, ‘It enabled people to connect with the person behind the camera…’

Robert Blomfield, 'Student Union University of Edinburgh', photograph
Robert Blomfield, ‘Student Union University of Edinburgh’, photograph

In the discussion, Margaret, Johnny, Ed and Will comment on some of their favourite photographs from the Edinburgh exhibition, explaining why they love them, and relate stories behind the pictures. There are interesting insights into people and places portrayed, and technical aspects of capturing the shot. More than twenty photographs are shown and discussed, giving a good insight into the range of Robert’s (mostly) Edinburgh works.

Robert Blomfield, 'Forth Road Bridge under construction' and 'Sitting, Standing, Kissing', Scottish National Gallery, photographs
Robert Blomfield, ‘Forth Road Bridge under construction’ and ‘Sitting, Standing, Kissing, Scottish National Gallery’, photographs

Photographs featured include Edinburgh people and street life, children playing in the street, student life and significant post-war development, notably the Forth Road Bridge under construction.

Robert Blomfield, 'Boys on scooters', photograph
Robert Blomfield, ‘Boys on scooters’, photograph

Among these, there are wonderful photographs of groups of children at a time when children had much more of an outdoor life. Children would often ask to have their photograph taken, and the resulting shots are full of joy and innocence.

Robert Blomfield, 'Lamp Post Exhibition', photograph
Robert Blomfield, ‘Lamp Post Exhibition’, photograph

The final part of the live event is a Question and Answer session from the online audience. Many commented that it is special to hear Robert’s family talk about his work, and to hear about the connection that the Edinburgh exhibition made with its visiting public: generating stories from visitors who recognised themselves, or family and friends, featured in the photographs. There are lovely insights from all involved. Johnny Blomfield refers to the universal appeal of the pictures. Robert’s family are continuing to work to widen recognition for his photography.

This presentation will very much add to the enjoyment that visitors to the City Art Centre exhibition would have had from it, and it is a wonderful introduction to Robert Blomfield’s work for those who are new to it. Ed Blomfield highlights a powerful idea articulated about the photographs by an exhibition visitor – ‘it’s as if the past was still going on somewhere’.

The book ‘Robert Blomfield: Edinburgh 1957 – 1966‘, published by Bluecoat Press, can be purchased from Street Level Photoworks.

View the recording of the livecast at https://www.facebook.com/streetlevelphotoworks/live_videos/and on the Street Level Photoworks YouTube channel.

With grateful thanks to Gordon Reid for this review.

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