On discovering the remarkable work of Robert Blomfield we were keen to interview him and get an insight on his approach and philosophy relating to his work. Our thanks also to Roberts family, his sons Will and Ed for helping with this interview.
Here is what Robert had to say.
How long were you practicing photography? – How did you get into it?
I got my first camera, a Zeiss Contax rangefinder camera in around 1956. I started taking black and white photos – my dad was an amateur photography and he showed me how to develop film and enlarge the negatives but beyond that I was self-taught. Around 1970 I wanted a change and moved into colour photography particularly to capture more shots of nature. I stayed with colour until 1999 when a stroke forced me to stop taking taking photos with an SLR (I still use a little digital point and shoot though!)
Can you describe your style of photography and what it meant to you?
I suppose I was very visually aware, I noticed things and wanted to take photos of them! It was quite spontaneous. I didn’t go looking for things to take photos of but they presented themselves to me naturally.
Did your style of photography naturally evolve or did you make a conscious effort to steer yourself in a particular direction?
My photography just naturally evolved. My wife Jane was very encouraging and she would tell me that she thought they were very good. Apart from my move into colour photography and taking more shots of nature and my family I didn’t really consciously evolve. I just followed my lens!
Which photographers did you admire when you where practicing photography – and why?
I admired Bresson and Doisneau but closer to home I really admired Don McCullin and Dennis Thorpe. I suppose they were capturing that same spontaneity and human connection that I was aiming for.
What challenges did you face as a photographer?
The main challenge was my stroke! That really finished off my serious photography. I wasn’t ever looking for recognition for my photos so I was happy taking them for my own pleasure.
What camera / lens did you like to use?
My first proper SLR was a Nikon F which was a Christmas present from my dad in 1960. After just using a 50mm lens for 2 or 3 years I got a F3.5 28mm Nikkor lens. I feel the 28mm liberated my photography – the wide angle gave me a more natural, human view. Most of the shots in my Edinburgh exhibition are with the 28mm. I also used a 105mm lens; this came after the 28mm and from then on I just used these 3 lenses. On an average day I would go out and use 28 and 105, one on each camera.
What was your workflow and preferred post-production method?
I had a darkroom in my student digs in Edinburgh and at home in Sheffield. I was surrounded by my enlarger and trays of chemicals; I would wash the prints in the bath! After they were dry the prints would just go in the yellow Kodak boxes and wouldn’t really see the light again (until now!)
How and where do you share or display your images? Any plans to do more?
I did have a couple of shots published in The Times newspaper and also in the Photography Year Book in about 1960 I think. But apart from friends and family no-one has really seen my photos until very recently. My sons have set up a website (www.robertblomfield.co.uk) which shows a selection of my black and white photos and I’ve been very flattered by the positive response to my exhibition at the Edinburgh City Art Centre. Hopefully there might be more exhibitions, maybe even a book…
What was the single best investment (time, equipment, learning) you made related to your photography that you felt had the most significant affect on your work?
For me it was getting my first Nikon SLR and then the 28mm lens. I could look through the lens and see what I was going to get with the same sort of feel as I got with my own eyes. Before that, with the old Contax, I would only see a rough approximation of the final image.
What about the future of photography – where do you see it going?
I feel we’re just being swamped with too many images. The beauty of the camera is being lost with the convenience of cameras built into phone etc. I think that’s rather sad. I sometimes wonder what will take over from photography. I really love the David Attenborough nature programmes – it’s not photography but the detail in those images is really breath-taking.
Robert Blomfield revisits his youth through the stunning photographs he took of Scotland in the 1950’s & 60’s. He worked as a doctor and never showed his images to anyone but always had a strong passion for photography. Now aged 80, his family are trying to reveal his archive to the world.