Socialist Worker

Maurice Broomfield’s spectacular view of work and working life

by Yuri Prasad
Issue No. 2193

Taper Rolling Bearing, Daventry works of British Timpkin, 1957 (Pic: courtesy of Host Gallery)

Taper Rolling Bearing, Daventry works of British Timpkin, 1957 (Pic: courtesy of Host Gallery)

Photographer Maurice Broomfield is responsible for some of the most emotive scenes of people at work that you are likely to see.

From 1954 to 1960 he published a picture a week in the Financial Times newspaper.

Each captures workers with dignity, despite often being in the most dirty and dangerous conditions.

The parts from newly emerging technologies, like semi-conductors, strike us as things of beauty.

Broomfield shows that exquisitely crafted machines aren’t simply a means to exploit people. They can be part of the liberation of humanity.

In Taper Rolling Bearing, a worker is shown at the centre of a giant cog. We can see him as both a slave to the machine and its creator.

Broomfield’s dramatic use of light, and the warmth he has for his subjects, helps turn the everyday into something new and spectacular.

The son of a lacemaker, Broomfield began work as a lathe operator at the Rolls Royce firm in Derby.

He spent every spare minute drawing his workmates and their surroundings.

“I loved the noise, the movement,” he said.

“I’d sit on the loo seat making sketches on a piece of lavatory paper.”

By the 1950s Broomfield had became a newspaper photographer and used his camera to turn the factory floor into a giant stage set.

But as automation took over the factory, he began to lose interest in photographing production.

“There was a human relationship between the man and his product,” Broomfield said of the pre-robotic age.

“They’d clean up the machinery and make things look nice with the same pride they took at home.”

Maurice Broomfield—A New Look at Industry exhibition is open at Pallant House gallery in Chichester until 9 May.

A larger exhibition consisting of more than 40 photographs – including some of his celebrated colour work – will be held at The Silk Mill, Derby from 1 May to 11 July.

A selection of his photographs have been put together in a book, Maurice Broomfield Photographs.

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Article information

Tue 16 Mar 2010, 19:38 GMT
Issue No. 2193
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