Maurice Broomfield: Industrial Sublime | ITSLIQUID

Maurice Broomfield: Industrial Sublime

Art | May 20, 2022 |

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Image courtesy of Estate of Maurice Broomfield

Maurice Broomfield: Industrial Sublime
V&A Photography Centre, The Bern and Ronny Schwartz Gallery, London
November 06, 2021 – November 06, 2022

This November, the V&A Photography Centre will be entirely rehung with two new photography displays. Maurice Broomfield: Industrial Sublime will present the late photographer’s dramatic photographs of mid-century British and foreign industry, and Known and Strange: Photographs from the Collection will highlight photography’s power to transform the familiar into the unfamiliar, and the ordinary into the extraordinary. The displays – both running for a year from 6 November 2021 – are a precursor to the 2023 opening of Phase Two of the V&A Photography Centre, which will add a further four new gallery spaces to showcase the V&A’s world-leading photography collection.

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Image courtesy of Estate of Maurice Broomfield

Maurice Broomfield: Industrial Sublime will showcase the late photographer’s dramatic photographs of mid-century British and foreign industry, capturing factories and their workers in an era of rapid transition. Born to a working-class family near Derby, Maurice Broomfield (1916-2010) worked at the city’s Rolls Royce factory after leaving school at the age of fifteen. He attended Derby Art College in the evenings and then worked in advertising before earning a position as Britain’s premier industrial photographer throughout the 1950s and 60s. This display will feature over 40 original exhibition prints, drawn from Broomfield’s extensive archive housed at the V&A. These will be shown alongside a selection of Broomfield’s cameras – lent from the private collection of his son, the renowned documentary film-maker Nick Broomfield – as well as other contextual items which have never been exhibited before, including historic film footage, audio recordings, press cuttings, contact prints, negatives, trade publications and pages from works order books, shining a light onto the photographer’s working processes.

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Image courtesy of Estate of Maurice Broomfield

Most of Broomfield’s photographs were originally commissioned for publication in company reports, but he also selected and printed some of them on a large scale for inclusion in photography exhibitions. From shipyards to paper mills, textiles to food production, and atomic power stations to car manufacture, Broomfield emphasised the dramatic, romantic, sublime and sometimes surreal qualities of industry. Today, many of the factories he photographed – and the communities of workers and skills that supported them – have either vanished or been subsumed into global corporations.

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Image courtesy of Estate of Maurice Broomfield

His archive, containing over 30,000 images, comprising negatives, contact prints, exhibition prints, press cuttings, business records, and promotional materials, survives as a valuable record of this history, while his images can be appreciated for their artistry. Highlights include his spectacular image of a half million-volt charge on ceramic insulators for Royal Doulton potteries; a surreal scene of a woman inspecting the assembly of a generator for the English Electric Company; blast furnaces and fettlers at the Ford car factory at Dagenham; and the high-tech lighting laboratory at Phillips in the Netherlands. Broomfield’s photographs remain relevant today, prompting questions about digital technologies replacing manual labour, the UK entering an uncertain economic future in relation to the rest of the world, and the toxic social and environmental legacy of industry.

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Image courtesy of Estate of Maurice Broomfield

To accompany the display, the V&A will publish a new book on Maurice Broomfield, written by V&A Senior Curator Martin Barnes and with a foreword by Nick Broomfield. Barnes discusses the life and work of Maurice, whom he came to know well as he worked to transfer his archive
from his Hampshire home to the museum.


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Image courtesy of Estate of Maurice Broomfield
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Image courtesy of Estate of Maurice Broomfield
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Image courtesy of Estate of Maurice Broomfield

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