Images of an Edinburgh street photographer from the 1950s and 60s will be on display

Images of Edinburgh in the 1950s and 1960s taken by a famous street photographer and ‘student of light’ will be on display for the first time.

The photos of the late Robert Blomfield will be on display at the University of Edinburgh where he studied medicine and honed his artistic talent.

His work was relatively unknown until an exhibition at Edinburgh’s City Art Center in 2018, and the new exhibition, titled Robert Blomfield: Student of Light, will be the first exhibition of his work since then.

It includes street scenes and images of student life, and is the first to feature his color photographs.

Anatomy amphitheater
Robert Blomfield captured views of student life (The Estate of Robert Blomfield/PA)

Blomfield arrived in Edinburgh to study medicine in 1956 and took a camera with him almost everywhere, even to class, producing lesson and laboratory plans described as unique in their access and composition.

Curator Daryl Green said: “In this exhibition you will encounter Edinburgh through the lens of Robert, from the time he stepped off the platform at Waverley Station through to the late 1960s.

“These photographs reveal how he developed his eye and skills in the darkroom and how he became a student of light.”

Born in Leeds and raised in Sheffield, Blomfield’s photography quest began when he received his first camera on his 15th birthday.

Right from the start, he applies the advice of Robert Capa who said “if your photos aren’t good enough, you aren’t close enough”.

He continued to take pictures until his last days, dying in December 2020, but his work remained largely invisible throughout his life.

His archive of original prints, films and color slides from Scotland were deposited with the Center for Research Collections at the University of Edinburgh in late 2021.

City view
The photographer sometimes used color film (The Estate of Robert Blomfield/PA)

Mr Green said: “The fact that Robert’s work has remained relatively unknown for nearly 60 years amazes me.

“In his work we perceive echoes of earlier street photographers like Eugène Atget and Henri Cartier-Bresson, and we can discern the rich attachment to place that we see in contemporaries such as Robert Frank and William Klein.

“While his vast archive slowly comes to light, it’s clear that Robert was Edinburgh’s quiet answer to Glasgow’s Oscar Marzaroli, Paris’ Brassai.”

Blomfield took eight years to complete a six-year degree, and he remained in Edinburgh after graduating in 1964 to start as a junior doctor at the city’s Royal Infirmary.

The show will place particular emphasis on Blomfield’s time as a student.

It also showcases some of his photographic equipment, including lenses, enlargers, filters and an astronomical telescope used to reach great depths of field.

By the mid-1960s, Blomfield was regularly seen with two cameras around his neck.

Both were usually loaded with black-and-white film and fitted with different lenses, but he occasionally shot color film.

Mr Green said: “Although he had experimented with color since his school days, it was not a regular part of his repertoire.

“The color film was more expensive and had to be sent to a lab to be developed, and when the slides came back Robert never enlarged them to print them himself.”

Robert Blomfield: Student of Light is supported by the Scottish Funding Council and will run from May 6 to October 1 at the University of Edinburgh’s Main Library.

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