In 1956, the 18 year old Robert Blomfield arrived in Edinburgh to study medicine at the University of Edinburgh. In his spare time, he pursued his hobby of photography, with a particular interest in “street photography”, taking candid images of the everyday life and people of the city.
Blomfield continued his street photography through the 1960s and into the 1970s, but his busy medical career meant that his thousands of images – negatives, prints, and slides – were simply stored away in boxes. They never saw the light of day until, some time after having a stroke in 1999 which forced him to retire, he and his wife Jane took on the task of starting to catalogue and digitise the images. After Jane’s death, Blomfield’s three sons and his brother continued with this mammoth task, which is still ongoing.
Now, to coincide with his 80th birthday, a selection of his Edinburgh photographs are being exhibited and hopefully Blomfield will be recognised as one of the great photographers of his time. From his vast collection, the City Art Centre is showing a selection of around 60 black and white images of life in Edinburgh in the 1960s, which capture a time distant enough to seem like a different world, but recent enough to evoke many memories in those of us who were around then. Blomfield photographed people of all ages, from babies to the elderly. The photographs of children playing in the streets are a reminder of how much more freedom they had then, in a time when a stranger could come along and take photographs without his intentions being questioned. Amongst the photographs on display, there are images which are humorous, others which are tender and moving, still others which are simply well-observed moments.
Blomfield’s photographs remind me of several well-known photographers, such as Oscar Marzaroli, Bert Hardy, and Robert Doisneau, and he deserves to be every bit as well-known and celebrated as they are. Blomfield’s archive is a very important record of the changing face of Britain in the 1960s, and I certainly hope that we will get the opportunity to see much more of it in future.
Robert Blomfield : Edinburgh Street Photography is at the City Art Centre, Market Street, Edinburgh from 24th November 2018 until 17th March 2019, and admission is free.
Review by Lisa Sibbald