ROBERT Blomfield, who died in December of last year, at the age of 82, was, surely, one of the most accomplished photographers in post-war Britain. This fact is all the more remarkable because he remained, throughout his years behind the camera, an amateur photographer.

In 1967, following the selection of a number of his pictures by the British Journal of Photography, Blomfield considered transforming his hobby into his occupation. However, fearing that working to commission would blunt the spontaneity of his images, he decided to continue in his chosen career in the medical profession.

In the late 1950s and into the 1960s, Blomfield pursued his medical training and early career as a junior doctor in Edinburgh. A Yorkshireman, born in Leeds, he fell in love with the city, taking up Edinburghers’ affectionate nickname for their hometown “Auld Reekie”.

Walking the streets of the city with his trusty Nikon F SLR cameras (the logos of which he taped up, to make himself less obtrusive), the photographer captured moments in the lives of the people with an extraordinary sensitivity. Speaking to filmmaker Stu Edwards for his lovely, short 2018 documentary Robert Blomfield: An Unseen Eye (which can viewed on Vimeo), Blomfield said: “You should love the picture. I love the photographs. I love the people.”

That human connection, combined with his extraordinary skill, accounts for the richly deserved recognition that Blomfield’s photography received towards the end of his life. In 2018-19 the City Art Centre (CAC) in Edinburgh ran a popular exhibition of his pictures of the city and its people.

Last year, shortly before the photographer’s death, Bluecoat Press published the book Robert Blomfield: Edinburgh 1957-1966. The volume includes stories about some of the images, told by people who recognised themselves and others in the photos in the CAC show.

Now, having inherited the dizzying collection of thousands upon thousands of shots (most of them taken before Blomfield had to put down his Nikons in 1999, following a stroke), the photographer’s family are trying to digitise as much of his work as they can. The results of this endeavour can be viewed at the handsome website in his name.

What we find on the site, in pictures taken in Edinburgh, Glasgow and elsewhere, is the work of a photographic master craftsman. Blomfield’s admiration of Henri Cartier-Bresson is abundant and clear.

However, there is also, in the “love” Blomfield expressed for the people he photographed, a radical humanism that Scottish photography aficionados will recognise from closer to home. In their empathy and, indeed, sympathy with the post-war working class, and, in particular, its children, there are wonderful parallels between Blomfield’s work and that of the great Scots-Italian photographer Oscar Marzaroli.

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Sikh Gentleman, The Gorbals (1966)

Indeed, in many ways, Blomfield could almost be described as the “Marzaroli of Edinburgh”. Just as Marzaroli captured the lives of, mainly, working class Glaswegians with an enthralling sense of compassion and solidarity, so Blomfield did on the streets of Scotland’s capital.

TAKE, for instance, Bespectacled Boy with Ball, Leith (1966). This picture of an irresistibly mischievous child in glasses and duffle coat, grubby from playing in the street, encapsulates Blomfield’s empathy with the people of Edinburgh as enduring subjects, people with stories, rather than mere, fleeting objects of curiosity.

The Edinburgh pictures also reflect, again and again, an eye for light and shade that is reminiscent of Cartier-Bresson. In photographs such as Student Dance, Café Olé, University of Edinburgh Charities Week (1958) and Student Union, Teviot Row House, University of Edinburgh (1964), Blomfield creates strikingly iconic images of the student life of the time.

At the dance, the photographer captures a restrained hedonism, conducted in a semi-darkness that is shattered by a blast of electric light. In the student union, the carefully ordered, nicotine-enhanced socialising of the petit-bourgeois students is illuminated by shafts of natural light so strong that they seem almost to be solid.

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The noirish Three Silhouettes, Grassmarket (1966), above, foregrounds the photographer’s astonishing capacity in both the composition of a picture and the perfect capturing of a moment of light and shadow. Such photographs stand as a stylish and skilful refutation of Blomfield’s modest assertion: “I didn’t have to set the stage, the stage set itself. The picture was presented in front of me. All I had to do was use the camera. It was a doddle.”

Blomfield is, quite rightly, best known for his prodigious collection of pictures of Edinburgh. However, he also made brief sojourns to Glasgow, creating photographs that lend further weight to the comparison with Marzaroli.

In Collared Boy, The Gorbals (1966), for example, there is a brilliant, empathetic association with the child who is the subject of adult discipline. The picture is remarkably similar, in both its affinity with the boy and its implied disregard for authority, with photographs taken by Marzaroli of children in the self-same Glasgow community in the very same decade.

CHILDREN in Passageway, The Gorbals (1966) captures, as Marzaroli’s pictures of the Gorbals do, the poverty, but also the inquisitiveness and the irrepressible playfulness of the district’s children. The superb, dignified photograph Sikh Gentleman, The Gorbals (1966) touches upon post-war migration to Glasgow from the Indian sub-continent with a simple, but politically charged, sense of camaraderie.

The Glasgow photographs may, understandably (given Blomfield’s lengthy residency in Edinburgh) be far fewer than those of Scotland’s capital city, but the photographer’s work is being appreciated increasingly on Clydeside.

This fact is reflected in a forthcoming online event being hosted by Glasgow gallery Street Level Photoworks.

The event, which will be live streamed on March 25, will include conversation with the photographer’s sons Will and Ed, and his brother Johnny. It will also incorporate a screening of Edwards’s mini-documentary.

Such events indicate that interest in the outstanding work of Robert Blomfield is, like the digitised collection of his photographs, set to gain an ever wider focus.


Robert Blomfield’s photographs can be viewed at:
The online event ‘Close Up: Robert Blomfield’, hosted by Street Level Photoworks, will be live streamed on Thursday, March 25 at 6.30pm: