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Maurice Broomfield (1916-2010)

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Maurice Broomfield started his career documenting the devastated cities of Europe. When he returned, Imperial Chemical Industries asked him to photograph one of their factories, and this led to a new career for Broomfield. For the next three decades, he took pictures of factory workers across Britain for annual corporate reports, exhibitions and trade fairs as well as for syndicated newspaper columns documenting the progress of industrial Britain.

All his photographs of industrial life were epic and intriguing, resembling art installations more than dirty workplaces. An inverted and disembodied mannequin’s leg is set against a room of darkening shadows as the lab technician posed behind in Broomfield’s famous ‘The Nylon Stocking Test, Pontypool’ (1957). This picture was highly reminiscent of Man Ray’s avant-garde photography. Also inspired by Vermeer, Joseph Wright (18th century painter who similarly documented the advent of the Industrial Revolution), Bauhaus and choreographed theatre, Broomfield set out to create masterly compositions, sometimes surreal, sometimes terrifying, but always glamourous. A school drop-out who worked in a factory and attended art school at night, Broomfield conferred poise, humanity and dignity to industrial workers and technicians whether they were making nylon, insulation, ballbearings or ships.

By the time he retired in 1982, following the death of his wife, the industrial Britain he so adoringly depicted was slowly disappearing too. With the new millennium came a nostalgia for the promised sci-fi future and thus resurgence of interest in Broomfield’s works, which indeed looked like stills from a Fritz Lang or Stanley Kubrick movie. His works were rediscovered, and retrospective after retrospective surrounded the last years of Maurice Broomfield, who died last week at the age of 94.

See his most famous photos here.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

October 9, 2010 at 11:34 pm

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