The Guardian, 13 October 2010:
Photographer who documented the postwar heyday of British industry
The photographer Maurice Broomfield, who has died aged 94, documented British industry from its postwar boom right up to the 1980s. Behind each of his images was a story. He would tell me tales of his lighting trickery, and was always full of admiration and praise for the workers he photographed.
At a milk factory in Wiltshire in 1966, he decided to paint the employees’ boots white to make them stand out, regarding it as his job to elevate the subject and pay homage to the workers. The plant managers adopted his idea permanently and white boots became compulsory. At the T Ward works in 1958, he made high art and drama out of a cold steel drum on a winter’s day. In 1951 he photographed the Crosse and Blackwell bottling plant in Bermondsey, south-east London. Maurice recalled the chatter of the women as they sorted the salad-cream bottles on the production line, the liveliness of the conversations drowning out the din of the machinery and clanking glass.
In all his portraits, the people are paramount. The focus of his eye is often not on the elegantly lit steel bearing, the fur hat, or the oil rig out at sea, but rather on the welder, the hatmaker or the oilworker – those to whom Britain owed great productivity and prosperity during this golden age of industry. If there was an idea he wished to express in his photographs, it was that the workers were to be appreciated and revered for their hard graft and grace.
FT, 20 February 2010:
Maurice Broomfield’s photographs of industrial Britain
At the age of 94, Maurice Broomfield is a little slow on his feet, but his mind still whirrs as efficiently as the machines he used to photograph. Broomfield went from working as a teenager on a factory floor in Derbyshire to photographing his former colleagues, taking pictures that were originally intended to inform but which were subsequently regarded as art.
Broomfield’s photographs, which will be shown in two exhibitions this spring and summer, don’t just record a now-defunct world of looms, laboratories, car factories and cooling towers; they convey the excitement that all that production generated – the electric feeling of being part of the successful project that was postwar British industry.
Broomfield, the son of a lace-maker, started as a lathe operator at the local Rolls-Royce plant – a choice that didn’t please his mother: “She wanted me to be a nicely clothed worker, not a chap who had to take off dirty overalls before I was allowed in the house. They were covered with this terrible mixture of whale oil and disinfectant that got everywhere.”
Broomfield persisted, and learnt the ins and outs of the job. He realised that the harder the metal, the harder the work, since you had to be careful about breaking the drill: “You could whip through soft metals like anything, so you could get a good bonus for doing much less.” Of course, work too quickly and they cut the bonus rate. The trick was to look out for supervisors and work slowly when they were watching, no matter how soft the metal. “Streetwise!” he says proudly of his young self.
The Independent, 6 October 2010:
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.”
Foto 8, 13 October 2010:
In Memory of Maurice Broomfield
Maurice Broomfield, a photographer best known for his portraits of industry during the 50s, 60s and 70s, has passed away, aged 94. Up until the week before he had been working on new ideas for exhibitions and productions of his work with such creativity and vitality that those of us who had the pleasure to work with him professionally never considered him old. Throughout recent hospital treatments Maurice’s involvement in the future of his archive, overseeing, editing and giving instructions for printing his photographs, continued as strong as ever.
Behind each of his images is a story; I delighted in his tales of lighting trickery and his admiration and praise for the workers he photographed. Take, for example, the milk factory in Wiltshire (1966), where he decided to paint the employees’ boots white to make them stand out from the background, always regarding it as his job to elevate the subject and pay homage to the workers. On this occasion the plant managers adopted his idea permanently and white boots became compulsory. In another image, of the T Ward works (1958), he made high art and drama out of a cold steel drum on a winter’s day. Employing dramatic lighting he cast the scene with warmth, while creating an image imbued with gravitas
The Daily Telegraph, 7 October 2010:
Broomfield’s photographs of industrial scenes often made them seem more like art installations than noisy workplaces. He aimed for a sense of choreographed theatre and, inspired by the Bauhaus maxim of unifying art and technology, showed how beauty can be found in function. Factory workers were often rigidly posed and products polished and arranged to produce a sculptural aesthetic of abstract form.
Broomfield would often ask for the lights in the factories to be turned off so that he could use hidden lighting for dramatic chiaroscuro effect. Some images were so other-worldly they were almost surreal: In The Nylon Stocking Test, Pontypool(1957) a disembodied mannequin’s leg is set against a room of darkening shadows.
“I love lighting,” Broomfield said. “It changes everything. It creates moods; it’s like a painting material. Take two people assembling a bearing in a corrugated iron shack. If I show them in a complete environment, that is not going to do any credit to the product they are making. So I would overlight the subject and underlight the background so that it went pitch black. The pictures were not about what I left in but what I left out.”
Having been a factory worker himself, Broomfield felt an affinity for industrial workers, whom he portrayed as noble people doing skilled and sometimes dangerous jobs. Assembling a Bearing (1957), for example, shows two workmen lowering the outer raceway of a ball bearing case on to another. The dark background and the concentration on the men’s faces conveys what Broomfield described as the “human relationship between the man and his product”.
AnOther Magazine, 12 April 2011:
Maurice Broomfield – Industrial Photographer
The late Maurice Broomfield’s photographs of postwar industry look more like the work of avant-garde modernist Man Ray than depictions of dirty, noisy workplaces. His visionary studies of the industrial boom from the 50s up until the 80s perfectly embody the Bauhaus maxim that beauty really can be found in function and offer a window on the strident spirit of optimism when Britain really was the ‘Workshop of the World’. To celebrate this period of work, and the rich industrial heritage of the Black Country, West Bromwich gallery, The Public, is currently exhibiting a collection of 25 Maurice Broomfield photographs co-curated by Broomfield’s son, award-winning documentary filmmaker, Nick Broomfield. “Maurice and I had been working on a large format exhibition of his work just before he died”, he explains. “Many of the pictures taken in British factories in the early 50s were taken on big format cameras, with lots of dramatic lighting, so they really need to be seen big to have the full effect.”
Born in Draycott, Derbyshire in 1916, Maurice Broomfield left school at 15 to work as a lathe operator on the Rolls Royce assembly line. His evenings were spent at Derby Art College where he would discover the talents that that would lead to his narrow escape from life on the factory floor. Returning from a photographic trip around Europe after the war, a lucky introduction led to an invitation from ICI for Broomfield to take photographs of their factory and its workers. The starkly lit, black and white portraits quickly caught the attention of other industry leaders and he was soon taking commissions from equally prestigious corporations for their annual reports, exhibitions and trade fairs.